The Act provides a national policy and program to preserve and protect selected rivers, or segments of rivers, in their free-flowing condition in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.  Section 1(b) of the Act states:

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...

Suitability is an assessment of factors to provide the basis for determining whether to recommend a river for addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Suitability is designed to answer these questions:

  1. Should the river’s free-flowing character, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs) be protected, or are one or more other uses important enough to warrant doing otherwise?

  2. Will the river’s free-flowing character, water quality, and ORVs be protected through designation? Is it the best method for protecting the river corridor...

Under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, designation neither gives nor implies government control of private lands within the river corridor. Although many rivers include private lands within the boundaries of the designated river area, management restrictions would apply only to federal lands. The federal government has no power to regulate or zone private lands under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act; however, administering agencies may highlight the need for amendment to local zoning (where state and local zoning occurs). People living within a river corridor may use their property as...

Yes.  The Nationwide Rivers Inventory lists potentially eligible rivers.  Federal agencies should make an eligibility determination for rivers on the Nationwide Rivers Inventory.

The communities of interest are key players in the development of a CRMP. They help with data collection and establishing baseline conditions, identifying issues and opportunities to be addressed in the planning process and, increasingly, in monitoring and implementation of aspects of the CRMP. Sections 10(e) and 11(b)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act anticipate the participation of federal, state or local governments, landowners, private organizations and/or individuals in planning, protecting and administering wild and scenic rivers.

Wild and scenic rivers may qualify as a Section 4(f) property, but designation of a river under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act does not invoke Section 4(f) in the absence of significant Section 4(f) attributes and qualities. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in consultation with the river-administering agency, determines on a case-by-case basis whether Section 4(f) applies. For example, Section 4(f) may apply to reaches of designated wild and scenic rivers that are publicly owned, open to the public and include recreation as a primary purpose, feature, attribute, or value....

Section 10(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Wild & Scenic Rivers Act directs that:

Each component of the national wild and scenic rivers system shall be administered in such manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system without, insofar as is consistent therewith, limiting other uses that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of these values.

In its technical report on managing wild and scenic rivers (Wild and Scenic River Management Responsibilities (2002)) the...

Citizen stewards are increasingly important in protecting wild and scenic river values, often through river-specific or regional stewardship organizations. Individually, or through nonprofit entities, citizens help survey and monitor resource conditions, provide interpretive and education opportunities, contribute to restoration efforts, and support many other protection activities.

Section 6(c) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act states:

. . . the appropriate Secretary shall issue guidelines, specifying standards for local zoning ordinances, which are consistent with the purposes of this Act. The standards specified in such guidelines shall have the object of (a) prohibiting new commercial or industrial uses other than commercial or industrial uses which are consistent with the purposes of this Act, and (b) the protection of the bank lands by means of acreage, frontage, and setback requirements on development.

The Wild...

A river identified for study under Section 5(d)(1) is protected by each agency’s policy; i.e., the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act provides no statutory protections. To the extent of each agency’s authority, the river’s free-flowing condition, water quality, outstandingly remarkable values, and classification are protected. Prior to a suitability study, the inventoried classification is protected. If, as the result of a suitability study, a less restrictive classification is recommended for a river or portion thereof, the agency is obligated to protect this recommended classification.

Section 16(c) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act defines a scenic easement as follows:

“Scenic easement” means the right to control the use of land (including the air space above such land) within the authorized boundaries of a component of the wild and scenic river system, for the purpose of protecting the natural qualities of a designated wild, scenic, or recreational river area, but such control shall not affect, without the owner’s consent, any regular use exercised prior to the acquisition of the easement.

While the Wild & Scenic Rivers...

Examples include, but are not limited to, bank stabilization/revetments; bridges (e.g., abutments, piers, approaches); emergency repairs; channelization; channel restoration; culverts; dams and dam removal; dredging or excavation; fish habitat/passage restoration or enhancement; gravel mining; in-channel transmission towers; levees; pipelines; recreation facilities such as boat ramps and fishing piers; water diversions/wells; and activities that are authorized under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).


Review of...

Yes, per Sections 3(b) and 15(1) for rivers designated by Congress under Section 3(a), but not for rivers designated by the Secretary of the Interior under Section 2(a)(ii). For 2(a)(ii) rivers, states and/or local government set the boundaries, if any, for rivers in their systems; these rivers are not subject to Section 3(b) or the 320/640-acre limitation.

In agency parlance used for planning purposes, river “areas” include the entire length of a study or designated river and its adjacent lands, an average of 320 acres per river mile (except on certain other rivers as specified by Congress and in Alaska, which is 640 acres for rivers located outside national parks). A river “segment” is a portion of the river area which has been delineated for evaluation and planning purposes. Its subsequent classification is dependent upon the level of development of the shoreline, watercourse and access at the time of designation. Significantly different...

Yes. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act directs other federal agencies to protect river values. It explicitly recognizes the regulatory roles of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting wild and scenic rivers, and directs other federal departments and agencies that permit or assist in the construction of water resources projects to do likewise. The role of such federal agencies in water resources project construction may be through regulation, direct funding, or indirectly funding by providing federal assistance to others.

All...

There are two ways rivers are designated in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System:

  • By Act of Congress
    This requires legislation to amend Section 3(a) of the Act.  Rivers designated by Congress are listed in Section 3(a) of the Act.
  • By the Secretary of the Interior
    This requires...

Maintenance of roads generally would not be affected. In consultation with landowners involved through coordinated management planning, every effort would be made to eliminate or reduce adverse impacts from any proposals for road improvement, realignment and/or new construction. If a proposed new road would have a negative impact on river values, the administering agency will work with the landowner(s) to mitigate the proposal. Should mitigation and/or consultation fail to reduce adverse impacts to an acceptable level, the administering agency could negotiate with the landowner to purchase...

The river-administering agency must take the actions necessary to remedy adverse impacts and/or show measurable progress in addressing identified adverse effects. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act gives river-administering agencies authority to adjust or eliminate livestock grazing, or any other commercial use, if doing so is necessary to meet the protection and enhancement standard.

Due to the dams, diversions, and water resource development projects that occurred from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, the need for a national system of river protection was recognized by conservationists (notably Frank and John Craighead), congressional representatives (such as Frank Church and John Saylor), and federal agencies.  The Act was an outgrowth of the national conservation agenda of the 1950’s and 1960’s, captured in the 1962 recommendations of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.  The Act concluded that selected rivers be preserved in a free-flowing...

(*For certain rivers, Congress directed the river-administering agency in Section 3(b) to determine which classes “best fit the river or its various segments.”  These administratively segmented rivers should reflect on-the-ground practicalities and, therefore, are unlikely to require subsequent amendment.)

Yes. While Congress specifies the segment divisions of a designated river, in some instances congressional language may require interpretation. For example, a segment division between a wild and scenic classification described as “from the bridge”...

Any federally assisted construction project—by loan, grant, permit, license, or otherwise—which would affect the free-flowing condition of a wild and scenic river. This includes any hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)  under Part 1 of the Federal Power Act (36 CFR 297).


Review of hydroelectric and federally water resources projects under Section 7 of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is complex. Please refer to Wild & Scenic Rivers Act: Section 7 (2004), a technical...

Section 6(a)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act states:

The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture are each authorized to acquire lands and interests in land within the authorized boundaries of any component of the national wild and scenic rivers system designated in Section 3 of this act . . . but he shall not acquire fee title to an average of more than 100 acres per mile on both sides of the rivers.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act authorizes fee title acquisition to the equivalent of about a 400 foot wide strip of land...

The need to clarify the terminus should be identified as a management concern/public issue during the planning process and considered in establishment of the initial boundary. The proposed clarification associated with establishment of initial boundaries must be undertaken with full public input and disclosure and is often completed during development of the comprehensive river management plan (CRMP).

In rare instances where the agency did not define the terminus to fit on-the-ground practicalities (e.g., a terminus described in legislation as “from the dam” included a dam and dam-...

Federal lands within the boundaries of designated river areas (one-quarter mile—one-half mile for rivers in Alaska located outside national parks—from the bank on each side of the river) classified as wild are withdrawn from appropriation under the mining and mineral leasing laws by Sections 9(a) and 15(2) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Federal lands within the boundaries of designated river areas classified as scenic or recreational are not withdrawn under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act from the mining and mineral leasing laws....

It depends on whether the collecting activity is commercial or noncommercial in nature and subject to river-administering agency regulation. Mining under the 1872 mining law is a commercial and business activity tied to valid existing rights of claims and is regulated as such (36 CFR 228, 43 CFR 3809, 8365, et al).

Non-commercial mineral collecting for recreational purposes (e.g., hobby collecting, rock-hounding, gold panning, sluicing, or dredging) may be authorized by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service depending on the amounts collected, size and scale of...

There are a number of steps that federal agencies use in their evaluation process:

  • Assessment of free-flowing condition and resource values.
  • Finding of eligibility or ineligibility.
  • Inventoried or tentative classification based on the development of shoreline, watercourse, and access.
  • Establishment of tentative, preliminary, or proposed boundaries and/or river areas.
  • Establishment of protective management requirements for eligible rivers.

No restrictions to private lands may be applied under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Comprehensive river management plans may establish goals for new construction consistent with classification. There is a wide range of uses compatible with these classifications so long as the overall values and character of the river corridor is maintained. Any effect on private lands would be through state or local zoning. Federal acquisition of lands or development rights would require landowner compensation.

The need to amend a segment division should be identified as a management concern/public issue during the planning process and considered in establishment of the initial boundary. The proposed amendment associated with establishment of initial boundaries must be undertaken with full public input and disclosure and is often completed during development of the comprehensive river management plan (CRMP) as a basis to make a recommendation to Congress to amend the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

The river-administering agency can only recommend such a change to Congress. A subsequent...

Boundaries are measured from the ordinary high water mark of the outermost stream channel. That is, boundaries will be measured from the outermost braid unless otherwise specified by Congress. This is typically considered during the suitability determination and in the development of the final river corridor boundary.

Yes. Legal descriptions along with a map are submitted to Congress in accordance with Sections 3(b) and (c) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and are retained by the administering agency. Requests for maps should be made to the agency field offices which administer the specific study or designated river(s).

Wild and scenic river designation seeks to protect and enhance a river’s current condition. Generally, the classification of the river reflects the level of development at the time of designation, and future development levels must be compatible with such classification. Any proposed new developments on federal lands must be guided by land use and resource management objectives that are compatible with the river’s classification.

Circumstances where agencies should always seek information and advice from each other are:

  1. In agency inventory and planning processes, and environmental analysis processes for aquatic ecosystems and regional watersheds; and,
  2. When proposed actions have the potential of affecting other agency-administered portions of the river.

Yes. While Congress specifies the termini of a designated river, in some instances congressional language may require interpretation. For example, a terminus described as “from the dam” could be interpreted as including the dam and dam-related facilities. However, to allow for continued dam maintenance, it may be appropriate to establish the boundary a very short distance below the dam or, through specific language, to exclude appurtenant facilities.

The river administrator is well advised to consider on-the-ground practicalities at the initial boundary setting stage, to the extent...

There are more appropriate and cost-effective ways to ensure resource conservation along wild and scenic rivers than using the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s condemnation authority. (Refer to Protecting Resource Values on Non-federal Lands (1996).)

Agencies may acquire properties using appropriated funds under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act or other authorities. Owners are contacted in order to see if an exchange or voluntary purchase can be negotiated.

No. Non-indigenous species need not be removed unless they are degrading other important resource values. Practical considerations, such as the effort or expense of eradicating a non-indigenous species and its importance (e.g., game species), should also be considered. This issue is generally addressed in the management plan.

Should the purchase of land become necessary, condemnation is typically a last resort and only used when:

  1. Land is clearly needed to protect resource values, or provide necessary access for public recreational use, and a purchase price cannot be agreed upon.

  2. Clear title to a property is needed, in which case condemnation is merely a legal procedure that has nothing to do with government/landowner differences.

The need to clarify a segment division should be identified as a management concern/public issue during the planning process and considered in establishment of the initial boundary. The proposed clarification associated with establishment of initial boundaries must be undertaken with full public input and disclosure and is often completed during development of the comprehensive river management plan (CRMP).

In rare instances where the agency did not define the segment division to fit on-the-ground practicalities (e.g., a terminus described in legislation as “from the bridge”...

Generally, no. Restrictions on public boating access and the implementation of entry permit systems (rationing and/or allocation) are not usually related to designation. Limitations on boating usually relate to the amount of use and/or types of user. Those rivers with use levels or types of use beyond acceptable limits (i.e., resulting in impacts to the values) may necessitate restricted access regardless of designation.

Yes. Regardless of whether a river is designated as a wild and scenic river, states have special responsibilities and management constraints with respect to state-owned lands underlying navigable waters. These special responsibilities arise from the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires states to exercise regulatory authority over navigable riverbeds to ensure that the paramount right of public use of the rivers and riverbeds for navigation, commerce, recreation, and related purposes is not substantially impaired. As a matter of common law, the states hold lands...

Once rivers have been evaluated and determined eligible for further study, agencies conduct an evaluation to determine if the rivers are “suitable” or “not suitable” for wild and scenic river designation within their resource or land management planning processes (Section 5(d)(1)), or usually as a separate study for congressionally authorized studies (Section 5(a)). In each process, the benefits of protecting river values are weighed against other resource values, issues and alternatives.

Either process is typically accompanied by an environmental document, normally an...

The study report for a congressionally authorized Section 5(a) study river is required to be forwarded by the study agency within the period specified in Section 5(b). This study report must be forwarded to Congress no matter what the outcome of the study.

Unlike the firm deadlines established for Section 5(a) study reports, the Act is silent in regard to Section 5(d)(1) rivers. Thus the river-administering agencies have considerable latitude in how and when to transmit the study report for rivers they have found suitable and are recommending to Congress for designation. The...

Wild and scenic river status does not provide federal authority to regulate private lands. The river-administering agency will cooperate with state and local agencies to appropriately monitor and evaluate activities on private land. If such activities (existing or potential) threaten or are incompatible with the values that contributed to the river’s designation, then, to the extent necessary, mitigation will be accomplished in cooperation with landowners and federal, state and local agencies.

A primary objective of wild and scenic river designation is to protect and enhance riparian area function and other river-related natural values. Specific actions to meet the objective are typically set forth in the management plan required for each river.

No, there is no statutory requirement that a CRMP be revisited in a specified timeframe. However, the federal wild and scenic river-administrator should periodically review monitoring information to determine if there is a need for change in existing direction to ensure values are protected and enhanced. Agency unit-wide plans that are revised following a CRMP-specific plan amendment will follow individual agency practices for plan revision. In some cases, this may include updating the CRMP during the agency unit-plan revision cycle.

Corridors may not exceed an average of 320 acres per river mile over the designated portion of the river (except on certain other rivers as specified by Congress and in Alaska, which is 640 acres for rivers located outside national parks). Agencies delineate boundaries based on natural or manmade features (canyon rims, roads and ridge tops, etc.) and legally identifiable property lines.

The economic impacts of implementing various alternatives should be addressed through the evaluation process to determine whether a river is a suitable addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System or through the river management planning process, or a designated wild and scenic river. Economic issues, such as development and ecotourism, both inside and outside of potentially designated river corridors may be considered.

Benefits may include, but are not limited to, providing managers tools or mechanisms to protect free-flowing condition, i.e., protection of river values through the assessment of hydroelectric facilities or water resource development projects within the designated reach; protection and enhancement of water quality and outstandingly remarkable values; and, if a river’s management plan objective, promotion of economic development, tourism, or recreational use. Based on current limited studies, indications are that property values remain stable or increase on designated rivers. This is often...

Yes. Congress has frequently added wild and scenic river status to rivers flowing through national parks, national wildlife refuges, and designated wilderness. Each designation recognizes distinct values for protection, and management objectives generally designed to not conflict. In some cases, wild and scenic river designations extend beyond the boundaries of other administrative or congressional area designations, thereby providing additional protection to the free-flowing condition and river values of the area. Section 10(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act addresses potential...