Oregon and Washington’s heart flows through its rivers. Like veins traversing the steep mountains and deep valleys, many of these waterways have long been protected under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, first passed in 1968. The country’s leaders observed the need to preserve this resource over 40 years ago, and continue to add rivers to the list today.
In this article, you will learn what it means to be a “Wild and Scenic River” and better understand the additional measures of protection the designation grants a river. In Part II, a more detailed descriptions of popular Washington and Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers will serve as examples of the act’s success in our region.
Wet Planet takes a particular interest to educating members of our community on this matter as we are so deeply connected to many of these rivers.
In fact, we hope that with a better understanding of local conservation efforts, such as the Wild and Scenic Act, you many even be able to become a part of the movement to protect our natural resources.
Finally, an opportunity for your help will be presented in next week’s continuation, an easy and quick way to make a big difference.
40 years of river conservation
In the Spring of 2009, President Obama signed his name to bill H.R. 146, adding more than 1,000 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System.
With this piece of legislature finalized, 252 rivers now fall under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a significantly higher number than the original 8 listed in 1968 when President Johnson signed the original bill.
Both Presidents, Obama and Johnson, understood the importance of protecting our precious waterways throughout the nation.
When the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act first appeared over 40 years ago, President Johnson commented that
“An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.”
Obama elaborated on the matter in March, “It is hereby declared…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.”
Had Johnson not acted then and had our congressmen not continued to petition for the conservation of our rivers, the situation might be very different today, specifically for our local Oregon and Washington whitewater rafting rivers.
Wild, Scenic, Recreational: Differing Classifications
Designating a river as Wild and Scenic grants a certain kind of elevated status amongst bodies of water. While different criteria go into the selection of a river for distinction as wild, scenic or recreation, it often is not until after the river is chosen that conservation efforts begin to build.
First, each river is evaluated and classified as wild, scenic or recreational.
- A wild river is one that is free from impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail. In addition, the watershed and shoreline remain both primitive and unpolluted.
These are the hard to get rivers. Deep in the wilderness, a wild river has not seen any development or impacts, often due to inaccessibility and remote location.
- Only slightly different, a river designated as scenic is considered equally as wild and primitive, yet with road access at points along the shoreline. These bodies of water may host human visitors more frequently, but remain relatively untouched.
- A recreational river is protected for its cultural and recreational qualities. These rivers can often be accessed much more easily and may have had impoundment or development along the shorelines in the past.
Once officially protected under the act, the primary goal becomes enhancing the characteristics that got the river protected in the first place.
Conservation finally begins
In her report for American Rivers, Allison McGrath describes four ways the Wild and Scenic Act benefits rivers once designated as wild, scenic or recreational.
1. The river is protected from future damming or placement of structure that would hinder the “free-flowing” nature of the river.
2. A management plan for the river is developed that supports the wild and scenic aspects of the river and allows local communities to participate in the management.
3. Designation increases public awareness and appreciation, aiming to restore a river in a collaborative way.
4. Increased funding as a result of official classification under the act may also increase protection and awareness.
With an incredibly mountainous and wet environment, the Pacific Northwest is home to many rivers within the Wild and Scenic River system. In fact, some of the best white water rafting in Washington and Oregon occurs within these protected canyons on rivers like the White Salmon, Klickitat, Hood, Rogue and Owyhee Rivers.
Next week, Wild and Scenic Rivers Part II will discuss how these rivers differ in distinction under the Wild and Scenic act, how designation has helped build a stronger river community and how Wet Planet chooses to support these important measures for protecting our favorite rivers.
Also, don’t miss your opportunity to help get more rivers this level of protection with a simple and quick activity…to be explained next week so stay tuned!
Susan Hollingsworth, writer and kayak instructor, looks forward to increasing her efforts to gain more protection for our rivers.