Can the lives and deaths of three young environmentalists teach us to save one of our last wild rivers?
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Flowing out of the Gila Wilderness – America’s first – protected by visionary conservationist Aldo Leopold in 1924, the Gila River is rich in biological and cultural values and rumored to be the birthplace of famed Apache warrior Geronimo. Though the river still flows free, people have been fighting to keep dams off the Gila River in New Mexico for 100 years. The latest grab for water would take huge amounts from the river at levels that would risk extinction of seven endangered species of fish, birds, and reptiles as well as harming the sustainability of rare river-side cottonwood forests.  Ella, Ella, and Michael knew protecting New Mexico’s last wild river benefits all of us, including the many species of rare wildlife that thrive along the Gila.

Heart of the Gila is a film project by David Garcia, an Albuquerque filmmaker, in collaboration with the parents of Ella, Ella, and Michael, along with Patrice Mutchnick, parent of Ella Jaz and director of the Ella Jaz Watershed Project, and Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, advising on all things river-protection related.

Heart of the Gila will make the rounds throughout New Mexico and nationally to educate the public about the critical importance of the Gila River and the need to protect the river from threats such as the large water withdrawals authorized by the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA). Our ultimate goal is long-term protection, using legislative approaches such as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or the Wilderness Act. Heart of the Gila will help us build a groundswell of support to protect the Gila River forever.


“If we were to divert the Gila River, the cycle would go on. We would never have learned to be desert creatures. We would never have learned how to insure the water we have.” Ella Jaz Kirk


“The best thing we can possibly do to honor our children is to protect the river. While doing so, we benefit ourselves and all the creatures that depend on it. As parents, we continue our children’s  legacy when their love for the land inspires others.”  Patrice Mutchnick


“At the heart of it, environmentalism is really about love.  They had the heart, they had the passion, they had the drive and the intelligence to do things–like protect the Gila River.”  Todd Schulke