Can the federal government seek to control use on adjacent state lands if that use affects wild and scenic river values, or regulate the use and/or activities occurring on the surface waters of wild and scenic rivers?

Yes, the federal government may seek to control use on adjacent lands under very limited circumstances. The Constitution gives the federal government certain limited powers to control uses on state-owned lands that affect adjacent federal property. These powers may be exercised through the Property Clause, which provides that, “Congress shall have the power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or the property belonging to the United States.”

The federal government may also regulate use and/or activities occurring on the surface waters of wild and scenic rivers, conditioned by the purposes of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and statutorial limitations.

Such authority has been upheld through numerous federal court cases regulating activities occurring on or off federal lands as necessary to protect federal land or related waters. While laws and regulations encourage cooperation in the planning, protection and management of rivers, exercise of federal statutes may be used in those situations where necessary to protect lands and related waters. Exercise of federal authority requires a demonstrated connection between regulated conduct and designated purpose.

Key cases include:

  • U.S. v. Arbo, 691 F. 2d 865 (9th Cir. 1982)
  • U.S. v. Hells Canyon Guide Service, Inc., 660 F. 2d 735, 737 (9th Cir. 1981)
  • Minnesota v. Block, 660 F.2d 1240, 1249 (8th Cir. 1981)
  • U.S. v. Lindsey, 595 F.2d 5, 6 (9th Cir. 1979)
  • U.S. v. Brown, 552 F.2d 817 (8th Cir. 1977)
  • Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 US. 529 (1976)
Interagency Wild & Scenic Rivers Council