National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems Logo

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (text) celebrated its 50 birthday in 2018. Sponsored by Senator Frank Church of Idaho the act was passed October 2, 1968. All 100 Senators voted for the act and only 7 members of the House of Representatives voted against the act. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and it’s older sibling the Wilderness Act both grew from the recommendations of a congressional commission started in 1958 – the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.

After the passage of the Wilderness Act there was still a need for further protection of rivers. Rivers within Wilderness Areas can be dammed by Presidential decree with Congress needing to designate funding for the actual construction. The Wild and Scenic Rivers act closes this loop hole for designated rivers. From a group of over 600 rivers, eight rivers were selected for initial designation: the Middle Fork of the Clearwater including the Selway and Lochsa Rivers, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Eleven Point, Middle Fork of the Feather, Rio Grande in New Mexico, Rogue, St. Croix, and Wolf.

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
While most have more, designated rivers must have at least one outstandingly remarkable value. The Nationwide Rivers Inventory lists the outstandingly remarkable values of over 3,200 sections of river that are inconsideration for Wild and Scenic status.

Current Protection

As of 2018 over 200 sections of river have received designation for protection. This is only 0.25% of all the river miles in the United States. Sections of river are classified as wild, scenic, or recreational. It is important to note that a stretch of river only has one designation.

Wild Designation

Free flowing sections of river that are usually only accessible by trail. Typically the water quality is pristine and the surrounding areas are undeveloped.

Scenic Designation

Free flowing sections of river that can be accessed in places by road. Also typically have minimal development in the surrounding areas.

Recreational Designation

Free flowing sections of river that substantial road and/or railroad access. The surrounding areas have some development and the river could have been dammed or diverted in the past.

How to Become a Wild and Scenic River

Congress can write an act that is then approved by the President. Or if a state designates a section of river as wild, scenic or recreation the state Governor can then recommend that section to the Secretary of the Interior to be designated as a national wild and scenic river.

Rivers

The Selway River was designated on October 2, 1968 as part of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. The Selway from Paradise to Race Creek is classified as Wild and protected due to having the outstandingly remarkable values of fish, recreation, historic, scenery, wildlife, botany, traditional cultural use and water quality.

The Illinois River received the Wild designation in October 19, 1984 from the boundary of the Siskiyou National Forest downstream to its confluence with the Rogue River. A total of 50.4 miles: 28.7 miles Wild, 17.9 miles Scenic, and 3.8 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Wild Section: Scenery, recreation, fish, botany and water quality.

The Rogue River was designated in October 2, 1968 for the segment of the river extending from the mouth of the Applegate River downstream to the Lobster Creek Bridge. A total of 84.5 miles: 33.6 miles Wild, 7.5 miles Scenic, and 43.4 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Wild Section: Fish, Recreation, Scenery

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River was designated in October 2, 1968 from its origin to its confluence with the Main Salmon River. A total of 104 miles: 103 miles Wild, and 1 mile Scenic. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Wild Section: Cultural, Fish, Geologic, Historic, Recreation, Scenery, Wildlife, Botany, Traditional Cultural Use, Water Quality. The mile of scenic starts just above Dagger Falls and ends downstream (around the right bend) of the Boundary Creek put-in.

Main Salmon was designated July 23, 1980 from the mouth of the North Fork of the Salmon River downstream to Long Tom Bar. A total of 125 miles: 79 miles Wild and 46 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Wild Section: Cultural, Fish, Geologic, Historic, Recreation, Scenery, Wildlife, Botany, Traditional Cultural Use, Water Quality

The Tuolumne and Upper Tuolumne River were designated September 28, 1984 for the main stem from its source to the Don Pedro Reservoir. A total of 83 miles: 47 miles Wild, 23 miles Scenic, and 13 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Wild Section: Cultural, Fish, Geologic, Historic, Recreation, Scenery, Wildlife, Ecology

The Merced River was designated November 2, 1987 and October 23, 1992. From its source (including Red Peak Fork, Merced Peak Fork, Triple Peak Fork, and Lyle Fork) in Yosemite National Park to a the normal maximum operating pool (water surface level) of Lake McClure (elevation 867 feet mean sea level). The South Fork from its source in Yosemite National Park to the confluence with the main stem. A total of 122.5 miles: 71 miles Wild, 16 miles Scenic, and 35.5 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of the Recreation Section: Fish, Geologic, Historic, Recreation, Wildlife, Botany.

The Klamath, Cal Salmon, and Scott was designated January 19, 1981 from the mouth of the Klamath to 3,600 feet below Iron Gate Dam. The Salmon River from its confluence with the Klamath to the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Salmon River. The North Fork of the Salmon River from the Salmon River confluence to the southern boundary of the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area. The South Fork of the Salmon River from the Salmon River confluence to the Cecilville Bridge. The Scott River from its confluence with the Klamath to its confluence with Schackleford Creek. All of Wooley Creek. A total of 286 miles: 11.7 miles Wild, 23.5 miles Scenic, and 250.8 miles Recreation. Outstandingly Remarkable Values of Klamath Recreation Section and the Cal Salmon Scenic Section: Fish.

The Kings River from the Middle Fork and South Fork Confluence downstream to 1595 feet above sea level received Wild designation in 1987 for outstandingly remarkable values of scenery, recreation, wildlife, and historic.