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...

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.

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.

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...

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...

A Section 5(d)(1) study river is protected to the extent of each study agency’s authority and not by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Each agency’s policy is to protect eligible rivers and rivers determined suitable for designation for the life of the respective agency land use plan. A river determined not suitable for designation need no longer be protected as a potential addition to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System once the study, with its related decision document, is completed.

Yes, but with many restrictions. It is important to note that condemnation is a tool that has been used only rarely on wild and scenic rivers. The objective of wild and scenic river designation is to protect and, as possible, enhance the values which caused the river to be designated. Should some proposed or actual use clearly threaten the values the river was designated to protect, the river managing agency would work with a landowner to explore ways to avert the threat through local zoning, state provisions, land exchanges, or purchases on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis....

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.

Section 16(b) of the Act defines free-flowing as “existing or flowing in a natural condition without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip-rapping, or other modification of the waterway. The existence, however, of low dams, diversion works and other minor structures at the time any river is proposed for inclusion in the national wild and scenic rivers system shall not automatically bar its consideration for such inclusion: Provided, that this shall not be construed to authorize, intend, or encourage future construction of such structures in components of the national wild and...

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.

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...

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...

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.

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).

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...

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.

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.

(*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...

Existing powerline or communication transmission rights-of-way may continue to be used and maintained. New proposals would be evaluated for impacts to river values based on state and local zoning.

Most rivers have flexible boundaries to accommodate specific features and river values. (Refer to Establishment of Wild and Scenic River Boundaries (1998).)

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-...

No. The United States determines the quantity necessary to protect flow-dependent outstandingly remarkable values.

 

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.

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 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...

Under Section 5(a), Congress directs that a study be conducted on identified river segments (usually within three years).  The designated federal agency conducts a study and subsequently reports its findings through the appropriate Secretary.  As a general rule, where joint agency jurisdictions are involved, the cooperating agencies coordinate their efforts prior to making recommendations or submitting reports.

Under Section 5(d)(1), federal agencies are directed to identify and evaluate potential additions to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System through agency...

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.

River segments may be tentatively classified for protective management purposes prior to a final suitability determination and/or congressional action.  This ensures that river values and characteristics are protected (subject to agency policies and standards) until the evaluation process and possible designation is completed.

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.  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.

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...

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.

Corridor boundaries are established to protect the free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated. Generally, the corridor width for designated rivers cannot exceed an average of 320 acres per mile which, if applied uniformly along the entire designated segment, is one-quarter of a mile (1,320 feet) on each side of the river. Boundaries may be wider or narrower, but are not to exceed the 320 acre average per mile per Section 3(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act without approval by Congress. The acreage of any islands...

Yes. Such projects may be constructed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife. In-channel structures (e.g., placement of large wood to replicate natural stream conditions) and in-channel activities (e.g., dredging to protect listed species) are acceptable, provided they do not have a direct and adverse effect on the values of the river (its free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values. Similarly, in-channel habitat projects may also be constructed below/above a designated river so long as they do not unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish...

Rivers included in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System by act of Congress (under Section 3(a) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act) are administered by one of four federal agencies: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and/or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) as specified in the legislation. Rivers included in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System at the request of a governor and designated by the Secretary of the Interior (under Section 2(a)(ii) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act) are administered by the respective...

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.

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...

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.

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).)

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.

No. The protection afforded by Section 7(b) of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act does not apply to Section 5(d)(1) study rivers. However, the managing agency should, within its authorities, protect the values which make the river eligible or suitable (free-flowing condition, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values).

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 of the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers...

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.”

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...

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.

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.

Upon congressional authorization for a study (Section 5(a)) or by federal agency initiative (Section 5(d)(1)).

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.

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.

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.