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...

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...

River access is evaluated in the land use planning process.  Specific access needs for public enjoyment, as well as any limitations, are determined in the river management plan.  In keeping with the requirements of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, “wild” rivers are generally inaccessible, except by trail (no roads); “scenic” rivers are accessible by road, which generally don’t parallel the river; and “recreational” rivers may have parallel or crossing road and railroad access.

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.

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.

For rivers designated under Section 3(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, a state’s responsibilities include:

  • Regulating and enforcing fishing and hunting regulations.

  • Adjudicating water rights and appropriation.

  • Developing and administering water quality standards.

  • Administering state land use regulations on non-federal lands.
  • Managing state lands and facilities along the river (e.g., state highways, parks, forests).

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...

Generally, no. Any provisions for public use of private lands must be specifically included in the terms of the easement. Depending upon the terms and conditions of each easement, public access rights may or may not be involved. For example, a scenic easement may only involve the protection of narrowly defined visual qualities with no provisions for public use. A trail or road easement by necessity may involve public use provisions.

Yes. Motorized access allowed prior to designation will, generally, be allowed post designation, subject to congressional intent and river management objectives. However, if motorized use adversely impacts a river’s water quality or outstandingly remarkable values, or if the use is not consistent with the river’s classification the route may be closed or regulated.

The continued legality of motorized use on land or water is best determined through the river management planning process, which considers factors such as impacts on river values, user demand for such motorized...

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...

Eligibility findings are made as a part of a congressionally authorized study under Section 5(a), or pursuant to agency inventory and planning under Section 5(d)(1).  For Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, the National Park Service will make an eligibility determination under authority delegated by the Secretary of the Interior following application by the governor(s) for federal designation.

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...

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...

The following summarizes the sections of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act related to water resources (quality and quantity):

Section 1(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act establishes that the national policy of dam and other construction be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof “in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.”

Section 10(a) states: “Each component of the national wild and scenic rivers system shall be administered in...

Wild and scenic river designation does not change land ownership or grant new privileges to the public on private lands. If the riverbanks are in private ownership, the landowner continues to control their use after designation. Ownership of the bed and bank of a river may be affected by whether the river is determined navigable.

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....

Yes. The ability of the owner to buy, sell, donate, or leave property to heirs is unaffected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Landowners who sell should inform the new owner of any easement transferred with the title.

Easements on private lands acquired for the purposes of protecting wild and scenic rivers do not provide public access unless this right was specifically acquired from the private landowner. A trail or road easement by necessity would involve public use provisions. Any provisions for public use of private lands must be specifically purchased from the landowner.

Through the various federal agencies’ land management planning processes and initiatives by the public, a significant number of rivers have been identified for study as potential additions to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. For example, the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI), maintained by the National Park Service, has identified over 3,400 river segments as potential candidates for study and/or inclusion into the National System.

Regardless of the study agency’s eligibility and suitability findings, a Section 5(a) study river is protected by the conditions and restrictions specified in Sections 7(b), 8(b), 9(b), and 12(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act during the period of the study, plus up to three years after the required report is submitted to Congress. In other words, these protections are independent of the recommendation of the study, allowing for Congressional consideration.

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.

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.

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.

Designation may cause an increase in use along the river as new visitors seek it out. However, the wild and scenic river management requirements should ensure that any such increase will not damage resources on private property. If anything, there will be increased oversight after designation, discouraging littering, trespass and vandalism. Private landowners may continue to post their property with “No Trespassing” signs or require users to obtain landowner permission.

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. Federal agencies do not have the authority to reimburse landowners for damage to their lands as a result of public use. However, wild and scenic river designation is unlikely to increase or invite vandalism. Granting access remains the owner’s responsibility and vandalism 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.

Local government entities are encouraged by federal wild and scenic river-administering 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. Their participation in development of the comprehensive river management plan (CRMP) in areas of mixed ownership is essential to ensure an enduring planning strategy that protects river values and respects the rights of landowners. In some cases, local governments have chosen to strengthen land-use requirements during a wild and scenic river study, in...

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...

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.

These facilities will be provided if they are consistent with the management plan for each river and if funds are available.

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, 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.

The Act (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271-1287) was signed on October 2, 1968. It has been amended many times, primarily to designate additional rivers and authorize additional rivers for study for possible inclusion.

To be eligible for designation, a river must be free-flowing and contain at least one "outstandingly remarkable value," i.e., scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar value.

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...

Once determined eligible, river segments are tentatively classified for study as either wild, scenic, or recreational based on the level of development of the shoreline, watercourse and access at the time of river is found eligible. If designated by Congress, the river’s enabling legislation generally specifies the classification.

Amending the lateral boundary of a designated river requires analysis and decision under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The environmental analysis process need not be complicated and may only require the proposed action and a no-action alternative. Amendment of a wild and scenic river boundary may also be timed with revision of the comprehensive river management plan and related decision under the NEPA. In either case, notice of the amended boundary should be published in the Federal Register and the legal description and maps forwarded to Congress and made...

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.

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...

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...

In the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, river values identified include scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act does not further define outstandingly remarkable values. However, agency resource professionals have developed interpretive criteria for evaluating river values (unique, rare, or exemplary) based on professional judgment on a regional, physiographic, or geographic comparative basis. (Refer to The Wild & Scenic River Study Process (1999).)

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).

Congress may classify the river upon the date of designation or authorize classification by the managing agency.  In the latter case, managing agencies have one year to finalize the boundary, identify the appropriate classification, and publish a notice in the Federal Register.  The agency has three years to complete a management plan.  For Section 2(a)(ii) rivers, classification would be established when the Secretary of the Interior designates the river.

On September 7, 1982, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior outlined in the Federal Register (47 FR 39454) eligibility and classification criteria, the evaluation process and content, and reporting requirements for potential wild and scenic rivers and management guidelines for designated wild and scenic rivers. These guidelines were formulated to provide a uniform evaluation and consistent management approach in the identification, evaluation, reporting, and management of wild and scenic river segments. These replaced earlier guidelines developed in 1970.

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.

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.

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.