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Origins of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Bill

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (text) celebrated its 50 birthday in 2018. Sponsored by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, the act passed October 2, 1968. Surprisingly, all 100 Senators voted for the act. 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 grew from a congressional commission started in 1958 – the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.

After the passage of the Wilderness Act there was need for further protection of rivers. Rivers within Wilderness Areas can be dammed by Presidential decree. But Congress must 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 received 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.”
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968)

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 in consideration for Wild and Scenic status.

Current Protection

As of 2018 over 200 sections of river have received designation for protection. However, 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 has just one designation.

Wild Designation

Free flowing sections of river that are usually only accessible by trail. Equally important, 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. In addition, the surrounding areas have some development and the river may have been dammed or diverted in the past.

How to Become a Wild and Scenic River

Congress writes an act that the President approves. Also, 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.

Learn More about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

Take an online course about the Wild and Scenic Rivers act produced by the BLM.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Selway River

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

Illinois River

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.

Rogue River

The Rogue River received designation on 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

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River received designation on October 2, 1968 from the confluence of Bear Creek and Marsh Creek 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 River

Main Salmon received designation on 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

Tuolumne River

The Tuolumne River and Cheery Creek/Upper Tuolumne River received designation on 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

Merced River

The Merced River received designation on November 2, 1987 and October 23, 1992. From its source (including Red Peak Fork, Merced Peak Fork, Triple Peak Fork, and Lyle Fork) through Yosemite Valley 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.

Klamath River and Drainages

The Klamath, Cal Salmon, and Scott received designation on 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.

Kings River

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.