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...

Timber management activities on federal lands within wild and scenic river corridors must be designed to help achieve land-management objectives consistent with the protection and enhancement of the values that caused the river to be added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Management direction needed to protect and enhance the river’s values is developed through the river planning process. Wild and scenic river designation is not likely to significantly affect timber management activities beyond existing measures to protect riparian zones, wetlands, and other resource values...

River-administering agencies use a variety of approaches to protect or enhance water quality including, but not limited to: developing a cooperative water quality plan with the EPA and state agencies; securing cooperative funding to assess or remediate problems; and providing technical assistance to landowners and communities, often through local conservation districts.

Yes. River-administering agencies have an affirmative duty to evaluate pre-existing uses on federal lands to determine whether such uses are protecting the values for which the wild and scenic river was designated. Grazing may continue when consistent with protecting river values. If grazing practices are determined to be inconsistent with wild and scenic river management objectives, then changes in grazing practices may be required.

Local government entities are encouraged by federal management agencies to provide for the protection of wild and scenic river values in their land use plans, including the use of zoning and other land use measures.

State land-use requirements often require each local jurisdiction to address uses and activities within wild and scenic river areas in their planning updates. Such local planning may be carried out by comprehensive plan policies, zoning requirements, negotiations with landowners, or through other mechanisms.

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.

Some examples of other similar outstandingly remarkable values include botanical, hydrological, paleontological, scientific, or heritage values.

Section 13(g) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act allows the granting of easements and rights-of-way within the boundaries of designated components in accordance with applicable laws, provided that the conditions attached to the grant are consistent with the purposes of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

Any portion of a right-of-way project that includes federally assisted construction that may affect the river’s free-flowing condition—and is not automatically prohibited by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act—is subject to an evaluation by the river-administering agency under Section...

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...

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...

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.

Section 16(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, defines a “river” as “a flowing body of water . . . or portion, section, or tributary thereof. . . .”  “Free-flowing” is defined as “existing or flowing in natural condition without impoundment. . . .”  Therefore, any section of river with flowing water meets the technical definition of free flowing, even if impounded upstream.

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...

Yes. Section 7(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act provides the same protection to study rivers authorized by Congress, except that the qualifying word “unreasonably” does not appear before “diminish” for projects located above, below, or on a stream tributary to the study segment’s boundaries. The intent and effect is to provide greater protection for study rivers from proposed hydroelectric facilities or other federally assisted water resource projects during the time-limited study process. Identical protection from water resource projects also applies to rivers that were previously...

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...

Subject to valid existing rights, rivers authorized for study under Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act are withdrawn under the mining laws while in study status; this withdrawal covers the bed and bank and federal lands situated within one-quarter mile of the bank on each side of the river. River study areas are not withdrawn from mineral leasing but are subject to conditions determined by the appropriate Secretary necessary to safeguard the area during the study period. However, the bed and bank and federal lands within two miles of the bank of each side of the rivers...

Yes.  Congress and the Secretary of the Interior have designated many river segments which are above or below dams that have regulated flows.

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.

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.

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.

The CRMP for rivers designated on or after January 1, 1986, is to be completed within three full-fiscal years after the date of designation or as otherwise specified, with a notice of completion and availability published in the Federal Register. For rivers designated before this date, Section 3(d)(2) requires review of the CRMP to determine if it conforms to Section 3(d)(1). This provision allowed ten years to update pre-1986 plans through the planning processes of river-administering agencies. Note: This 10-year period expired January 1, 1996.

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...

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....

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.

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...

Yes, a CRMP is developed in compliance with the NEPA. The purpose and need for the proposed action is to protect and enhance the values for which the river was designated (free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values), within its classification(s). The proposed action establishes appropriate goals, objectives, and/or desired conditions to meet those purposes. Alternative courses of actions are developed and analyzed relative to achieving overall goals and desired conditions within the wild and scenic river corridor. A “no action” alternative, representing the...

Yes. Water may be secured through a variety of protection strategies, in the interim. Ultimately, the United States should secure a federal reserved water right in state court or the appropriate forum. Interim measures may include, but are not limited to: state instream flow programs, reservoir operation schedules, endangered species flow recommendations, conservation techniques, cooperative agreements, and water right purchases from willing sellers.

 

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

Yes. Section 6(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act specifically prohibits the use of condemnation for fee title purchase of private lands if 50 percent or more of the acreage within the boundaries on both sides of the designated river is in public ownership (i.e., owned by the federal, state, or local government). In addition, Section 6(a)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act prohibits acquiring more than 100 acres per river mile within the corridor, which equates to a stip of land about 400-feet wide along both sides of the river. Fee title condemnation is allowed to clear title or...

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

A river authorized for study under Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is subject to the conditions and restrictions specified in Sections 7(b), 8(b), 9(b), and 12(a) of the Act.

The river is protected for the duration of the study plus up to three years after the required report is submitted (along with the President’s recommendation) to Congress. Should Congress not act within the three-year time frame, the river is no longer afforded protection by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. In cases where a study has not been submitted to Congress, the statutory protections...

Yes. Fishing and hunting are regulated under state laws. Where hunting and fishing were allowed prior to designation, they may continue. The river-administering Secretary may, however, designate no hunting zones or periods in which no hunting is allowed for public safety or other reasons. The Secretary must issue such regulation in consultation with the wildlife agency of the state(s).

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 report...

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.

No. There are no special provisions limiting overflights of components of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Certain designated wild and scenic rivers are located by coincidence within restricted overflight areas, but were not the cause of the restriction. Altitude restrictions for civil aircraft in the United States under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations (e.g, 14 CFR 91.119 and 91.515 which apply to U.S. airspace) and altitude guidelines in the Airman’s Information Manual (Section 4, paragraph 7-4-6) apply to certain chartered areas. The FAA has entered into...

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?  ...

There are no known studies comparing river use levels before and after wild and scenic river designation with changes in use levels of similar non-wild and scenic rivers. Factors other than wild and scenic river designation (i.e., river and water attributes, access to the river, and availability of facilities and commercial services) are considered to be the major influences on river use levels. For wild and scenic rivers, as for other rivers managed by federal agencies, the implementation of permit systems or other limits of use are typically undertaken when use exceeds an acceptable...

Landowners can charge a fee for crossing private lands to fish, except where a public access easement exists. The designation of a wild and scenic river does not change landowner rights unless all, or a portion of those use rights, are acquired from the landowner.

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...

(*For some rivers, Congress has 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 circumstances and, therefore, are unlikely to require subsequent amendment.)

Yes. In a very few cases, the legislation designating a river erroneously describes a segment division and needs to be amended to fit on-the-ground circumstances. For example, the designating language for the Upper Rogue Wild & Scenic River...

Prior to 1986, Section 3(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act required the river-administering agency to “prepare a plan for necessary developments in connection with its administration in accordance with such classification.” Through a generic amendment of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1986, Section 3 was amended with a new subsection requiring a “comprehensive management plan . . . to provide for protection of the river values” (Section 3(d)(1)). The comprehensive river management plan (CRMP) must address:

  1. Resource protection;

  2. Development of lands and...

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).

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.

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.

No. Lands owned by a state may be acquired only by donation or exchange per Section 6(a)(1) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

No. Where tribal lands are involved, sovereign tribes retain authority over the lands; however, the river-administering agencies seek opportunities to collaborate in protecting values of joint concern.

For 5(a) studies, the study report, planning document and combined National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis are submitted to the agency head for review and subsequent transmittal to Congress, which decides the final disposition of the river.

For 5(d)(1) studies, the study report and combined NEPA analysis (if conducted as a separate study), or study report prepared from the underlying land management plan, are submitted through the study agency and its respective department for review. The final study report is transmitted by the appropriate Secretary to Congress, which...

Land acquisition is one tool for protecting and enhancing river values. It may also be an important means of providing public access to a wild and scenic river. Notwithstanding Section 6 of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, however, Congress has pre-empted some or all of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’s federal land acquisition authorities in the enabling acts for certain wild and scenic rivers where the river study demonstrated that protective zoning or other conservation practices provided adequate safeguards for river values.

Yes.  For purposes of eligibility evaluation, the volume of flow is sufficient if it is enough to sustain or complement the outstandingly remarkable values identified within the segment.  Rivers with intermittent or non-perennial flows exist within the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System and may be representative of rivers within particular physiographic regions.

Yes. Under Section 5(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the public is involved in the study of rivers authorized by Congress. The report associated with a congressionally authorized study addresses subjects such as current status of land ownership and use in the area; reasonably foreseeable potential uses of land and water which would be affected by designation; the federal agency to administer the river if designated; and the ability of, and estimated costs to, state and local agencies to participate in the administration of such rivers. The public and state, local and tribal...