Wild & Scenic Rivers Act Turns 40

October 1, 2008

On Oct. 2, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act turns 40. How are your local rivers faring? Here's a collection of ideas, sources, and resources for river-related stories.


The patchwork governance of WSRA-protected rivers can be confusing to navigate. It's not always easy to tell who's really in charge, or accountable.

According to Rivers.gov (a site operated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service), "As of 2006, with the addition of CA's Black Butte River and NJ's Musconetcong River, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System protects more than 11,000 miles of 165 rivers in 38 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; this is a little more than one quarter of 1% of US rivers. By comparison, more than 60,000 large and small dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles (about 17%) of our rivers."

The Nationwide Rivers Inventory lists more than 3,400 river segments that may meet criteria for state or federal W/S protection. Info and contacts by state.

American Rivers is a leading US organization advocating river protection. Info by US region. WSRA experts. Press: Amy Souers Kober, 206-213-0330 x23.

Federal agencies (especially the US Fish & Wildlife Service) manage protected W&S rivers that run through federal lands. However, many W&S river segments run through state or private lands. These are protected jointly by various agencies and organizations (including businesses), under Partnership Rivers Management Plans

According to American Rivers, 33 states have their own river protection programs, which protect 460 rivers. American Rivers offers a toolkit for people seeking federal protection of state-protected rivers.


W&S river protection often comes into conflict at the local and state level over issues such as land use and development, agriculture, water supply management, sewer systems, and more. Some examples of recent coverage:

MA: "Behold the Taunton River in Fall River, Massachusetts, pictured nearby. Congressman Barney Frank thinks your family would love to visit this scenic wilderness. ...Mr. Frank's real agenda ...[involves] the proposed site of a terminal for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG). The terminal would be located right [near] five white storage tanks ...hardly untrammeled wilderness. The Congressman, whose district includes part of Fall River and the Taunton River, has long opposed the LNG port." "Mr. Frank's Wild River" (Editorial), Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2008.

MN: "Advocates of preserving the federally protected St. Croix want to adhere to the rules limiting development. But many would-be river residents are willing to fight to build their dream homes." "Debate Over Development Roils the St. Croix River," St. Paul Pioneer Press,Sept. 27, 2008.


The stated purpose of WSRA is to preserve "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, ...in free-flowing condition."

The WSRA also designated 138 rivers to be studied for inclusion in the Wild & Scenic River System, which led to 46 additional designations after the law's passage.

Need visuals? American Whitewater has created interactive map layers (KMZ files) that you can import into Google Earth to exploredesignated and potentially eligible W/S rivers in the US.

Find local river management professionals: River Management Society (nonprofit association of professionals) can offer member referrals.Caroline Kurz, 406-549-0514.

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