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...

Timber management activities on non-federal lands outside the corridor are guided by state and local authorities. The river manager may provide technical assistance and/or work with state/local governments to protect river values.

No. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act specifically prohibits the federal government from expending funds on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, except to manage federal lands or to provide technical assistance to local managers.

Agency officials are required to coordinate when their responsibilities relevant to wild and scenic rivers overlap.  Officials should determine the level of study to be conducted, who will lead the study, and, to the extent necessary and feasible, prepare a joint document for submission to Congress or congressional delegations.

Generally, existing livestock grazing practices and related structures are not affected by designation. The Interagency Guidelines state that agricultural practices should be similar in nature and intensity to those present in the area at the time of designation, and that grazing may be compatible with all river classifications (wild, scenic or recreational). Grazing and other public uses may occur in a wild and scenic river corridor as long as the uses do not adversely impact or otherwise degrade the values for which a river was designated.

Once such a river has been found eligible, the federal study agency should, to the extent it is authorized under various laws and subject to valid existing rights, ensure the river and the surrounding area are protected as a potential wild and scenic river pending a suitability determination.

Administering agencies do not have any authority to control public use of private lands. Granting of access remains the owner’s responsibility and trespass is handled by local law enforcement authorities. Federal river-administering agencies do, however, work closely with landowners to minimize problems through brochures and maps, signs, etc., and many landowners feel they are better off with the agency taking some responsibility.

No. The river study, enabling legislation, and subsequent management planning process will consider how best to protect river values while recognizing private property rights.

The priority date is the date the river was added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.


Water law is a complex legal area, and water rights are a highly contentious issue. Whenever a water allocation issue arises, a river manager should consult with staff with water rights expertise and, as necessary, seek legal counsel.

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.

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...

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

No. The public’s right to float a particular river does not change with designation. Neither does designation give river users the right to use, occupy, or cross private property without permission.

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.

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...

No, not unless necessary to protect public safety, the river’s water quality, or other resource values. Recreational use of our nation’s rivers is increasing in both magnitude and extent, i.e., the types of recreational activities pursued and the technologies being used. Whether and how to restrict recreational use is a key issue in the planning process, which includes extensive local, regional, and national public involvement.

Projects with the following attributes are generally considered most harmonious with river ecosystems:

  • Those made of native materials, e.g., wood, rock, vegetation, and so forth that are similar in type, composition or species to those in the vicinity of the project.
  • Those using construction materials that are natural in appearance, e.g., logs with bark intact as opposed to being peeled and whole naturally weathered rocks as opposed to split or fractured (i.e., riprap).
  • Those with materials placed in locations, positions, and quantities mimicking natural...

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...

The requirement for a comprehensive river management plan (CRMP), does not apply to state-administered, federally designated rivers. Federal land managers are responsible for protecting river values in all agency planning and management actions for any portion of a 2(a)(ii) river that flows on federal lands. In some cases, the petitioning state has a requirement for a plan. The existence of a state or local plan to protect river values is one of the factors considered by the National Park Service in its review of the 2(a)(ii) nomination for the Secretary.

No. Navigability determinations are based on factors other than wild and scenic river designation. Because of this, designation does not affect ownership of the submerged lands [or minerals lying] under the river.

Yes, if they are consistent with management objectives for the river and do not degrade water quality or the outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated.

Yes.  There are three classifications (wild, scenic and recreational) that may be applied to a particular river segment. Distinct segments along the designated reach may contain differing and non-overlapping classifications (wild, scenic, or recreational), e.g., a 100-mile wild and scenic river may be classified as wild for 50 miles, scenic for 30 miles, and recreational for 20 miles.

Timber management activities on non-federal lands within wild and scenic river corridors are guided by state and local authorities. Under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the only way the federal government can restrict private timber management is through purchase of timber rights (in easement or fee title). The river manager may provide technical assistance and/or work with state/local governments to protect river values.

Wild and scenic river study reports are prepared in three instances:

  1. When Congress authorizes a study pursuant to Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

  2. For eligible rivers that have also been determined suitable by a federal land management agency pursuant to Section 5(d)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, when the agency deems it appropriate to forward the recommendation.

  3. For state-nominated Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, the National Park Service prepares a report determining whether the candidate river meets the requirements of...

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...

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. In some river study authorizations Congress has required the study agency to work with state and local governments and the public to develop a CRMP in concert with the study process to assist in determination of the river’s suitability. Such pre-designation CRMPs have, in some cases, been adopted in the legislation adding the river to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. In cases where Congress has not authorized a pre-designation CRMP, agencies have taken the initiative to develop elements of the CRMP in the study report (pre-designation).

The federal government has rarely exercised its eminent domain powers with respect to wild and scenic rivers. Of the 226 rivers in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System as of June 2022, condemnation for fee title has been used on only four rivers. Nearly all of the federal government’s use of condemnation occurred in the early years of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s implementation when the attitudinal climate was one of federal acquisition. Similarly, the use of scenic easement condemnation has also been used very rarely, and then only on seven rivers, all designated prior to...

No. Under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the federal government has no authority to regulate or zone private lands. Land use controls on private lands are solely a matter of state and local zoning. Although the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act includes provisions encouraging the protection of river values through state and local governmental land use planning, there are no binding provisions on local governments. In the absence of state or local river protection provisions, the federal government may seek to protect values by providing technical assistance, entering into agreements with...

Yes.  The federal agency should consider a wide variety of internal and external sources from which to identify potentially eligible rivers.  These sources may include:  American Rivers’ “Outstanding Rivers List,” statewide river inventories/assessments, published guidebooks, etc.  The important point is to develop and apply standardized criteria through a documented evaluation process for potential wild and scenic rivers.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), in coordination with the river-administering agency, performs compliance reviews for qualifying properties. While Section 4(f) requires that the river-administering agency’s recommendations for minimizing harm are considered during the planning process, the authority to administer and make Section 4(f) approvals ultimately resides with the DOT. The river-administering agency’s concurrence on any DOT Section 4(f) compliance documents should clearly state that its concurrence is contingent upon a favorable final determination for the project under...

The Interagency Guidelines interpret Section 10(a) of Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (the protect and enhance mandate) as “a non-degradation and enhancement policy for all designated river areas, regardless of classification. . . . Specific management strategies will vary according to classification but will always be designed to protect and enhance the values of the river area.” The overarching goal articulated in Section 10(a) is to protect existing high-quality conditions while improving conditions when unacceptable impacts are documented, thus leaving each river to future generations in...

Section 7 of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act prohibits any department or agency of the United States from assisting in the construction of any water resources project that would have a “direct and adverse” effect on the values for which the river segment was established, namely its free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values (outstandingly remarkable values). It also precludes federal assistance to projects below or above a designated river that have been determined to “invade the area or unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife...

Section 16(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act defines a river as “a flowing body of water or estuary, or a section, portion, or tributary thereof, including rivers, streams, creeks, runs, kills, rills, and small lakes.”

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.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act states that rivers designated under Section 2(a)(ii) “shall be administered by the State or political subdivision thereof without expense to the United States other than for administration and management of federally owned lands.” The state is responsible for providing protection, except on federally administered lands and with respect to Section 7(a) determinations and securing a federal reserved water right under Section 13(c), both of which are made by a federal agency. The National Park Service provides ongoing technical assistance and partnership...

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....

For state-designated rivers, a governor may submit an application to the Secretary of the Interior under Section 2(a)(ii) of the Act.  If found eligible, and if sufficient protection is afforded by the state, the Secretary may make the designation.  Rivers designated in this manner continue to be administered by the state (sometimes with assistance from local governments), except for any federal lands along the river.  If there are federal lands located along the river, the state and federal river-administering agencies may enter into an agreement to outline federal/state...

Yes. To withdraw a scenic or recreational river segment, the managing agency must submit a separate public land order or notice of realty action.

No. However, all treatments must protect river values. Treatment methods that also include in-channel activity (e.g. dredging) are subject to review under Section 7(a) as water resources project.

Ideally one coordinated CRMP is developed with each wild and scenic river-administering agency documenting its respective decisions. In a few cases, separate plans may be required. However, even in this case, the planning process is conducted jointly to the greatest extent possible to ensure consistency of outstandingly remarkable values, classification, standards, and monitoring.

It is important to develop and apply standardized criteria through a documented evaluation process that may include a screening for potential wild and scenic rivers. If there doubt, evaluate the river according to the criteria in the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, i.e., free-flowing condition and outstandingly remarkable values.

The requirements specified for a CRMP in Section 3(d)(1) are most often developed through a separate-in-time planning process. This can result in either an amendment to the direction in the agency’s unit-wide plan o a stand-alone plan, depending on agency practices. For designated rivers that are separate NPS units, the CRMP is the General Management Plan (e.g., St. Croix National Scenic Riverway).

Camping is often important to the enjoyment of wild and scenic rivers. As appropriate, and when private interests do not provide sufficient facilities, the federal managing agency attempts to provide them on federal lands. As a condition of use, consistent with river classification and the management objectives for the river area, the managing agency may specify that camping will be permitted only in designated locations. Enforcement of camping restrictions and limitations can be through indirect means (brochures, maps, signs, etc.) and/or direct means (permits, enforcement personnel, etc...

Yes. The “equal footing” principle of the Constitution and the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 afford each state the ownership of lands and natural resources under navigable rivers. These submerged lands generally extend from bank-to-bank or to the mean or ordinary high water mark.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act does not specifically mention aquatic or upland non-indigenous species. While non-indigenous species may be introduced—provided that doing so is not contrary to another law or the policy of the managing agency, and would not result in the degradation to the river’s values—the use of native species is generally preferred. Indirect impacts of introducing non-indigenous species, e.g., increasing recreational fishing, should also be considered. Additional guidance for a specific river is usually included in its management plan.

No.  The Interagency Wild & Scenic River Guidelines state, “There are no specific requirements concerning the length or the flow of an eligible river segment.  A river segment is of sufficient length if, when managed as a wild, scenic or recreational river area, the outstandingly remarkable values are protected.  Flows are sufficient if they sustain or complement the outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated.

A variety of methodologies are used to determine instream flows necessary to protect flow-dependent outstandingly remarkable values for a specific wild and scenic river. Methodologies can range from staff/expert opinions (e.g., flows necessary for boating) to complicated hydraulic models (e.g., Instream Flow Incremental Methodology and Physical Habitat Simulation Models) used to simulate fish habitat requirements.


Water law is a complex legal area, and water rights are a highly contentious issue. Whenever a water allocation issue arises, a river manager...

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.

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.