Voice of the River

Ten Fun Facts About the Wild and Scenic Rivers System

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act turned 50 this month! The act created the first national system to permanently protect free-flowing rivers.

To celebrate, here are ten things you may (or may not know) about Wild and Scenic Rivers.

  1. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act into law on October 2, 1968, to protect free-flowing rivers with “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values” (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act).
  2. The first eight rivers protected through the program were all threatened by a dam or mine proposal: Clearwater, Eleven Point, Feather, Rio Grande, Rogue, St. Croix, Salmon, and Wolf.

    The Craighead brothers first understood the value of wild and scenic rivers on the Flathead (Upper North Fork pictured).

  3. The Act has roots on the Flathead River in Montana. Frank and John Craighead, twin brother from Washington D.C., first grasped the importance of free-flowing rivers for wildlife and recreation while studying grizzly bears south of Glacier National Park. The brothers spread the word while fighting a dam proposed on the Middle Fork of the Flathead. Their work lead to clean water protection through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
  4. Today, the Wild and Scenic Rivers System protects over 12,700 of the 3.9 million miles of river in the country (rivers.gov). All told, this represents a little more than a quarter of a percent of all the nation’s rivers. By comparison, more than 75,000 large dams across the country have altered at least 600,000 miles, or about 17%, of American rivers (rivers.gov).
  5. A Wild and Scenic designation requires the federal government to protect a river’s free-flowing character, water quality, and remarkable values. However, management decisions on private land are voluntary and agricultural practices, residential development, and other uses can continue.
  6. Rivers are eligible for three levels of designation: wild, scenic, and recreational. Wild rivers are pristine and generally reached only by trails; scenic rivers are largely primitive, but accessible in some places by roads; and recreational rivers are readily used by road or railroad with some development along their banks.
  7. Several state and federal agencies manage Wild and Scenic Rivers on public lands, including the United States Forest Service (52%), Bureau of Land Management (21%), National Park Service (17%), States (7%), and Fish and Wildlife Service (3%).
  8. The three states with the most rivers protected under the act are Alaska (3,210 miles, 25 rivers), California (2,000 miles, 23 rivers), and Oregon (1,917 miles, 59 rivers).

    Montana’s newest Wild and Scenic River, East Rosebud Creek, was designated in August 2018.

  9. According to rivers.gov, “Montana has approximately 169,829 miles of river, of which 388 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic—approximately 0.2% of the state’s river miles”. Montana’s three protected rivers are Flathead River (1976), Missouri River (1976), and East Rosebud Creek (2018).
  10. The Task Force is part of Montanans for Healthy Rivers, a coalition of citizens, sportsmen, businesses, and conservationists, working to conserve the last, best free-flowing rivers in western Montana. In the Gallatin watershed, the Gallatin River, Porcupine Creek, and the Taylor Fork are proposed for Wild and Scenic designations.

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