Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968)

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Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968)

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968, during the same week as the National Trails System Act, in the shadow of the Wilderness Act (1964), and in the aftermath of a heated controversy involving dams in the Grand Canyon. The main focus of the law is to prevent designated rivers from being dammed.

The act establishes three categories of rivers: wild, scenic, and recreational. Wild rivers are completely undeveloped and accessible only by trail. Scenic rivers are mainly undeveloped but are accessible by roads. Recreational rivers have frequent road access and may have been developed in some way. As was the case in the Wilderness Act, there would be no transfer of lands from one agency to another after designations were made. That is, for example, designated rivers in national forests are managed by the Forest Service , and designated rivers under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction are to be managed by the BLM. Even state agencies could manage designated rivers. The law provides for the preservation of land at least 0.25 mi (0.4 km) wide on both sides of designated rivers. The act emphasizes the use of easements on private lands, rather than acquisition, to achieve this purpose.

The first wild rivers bill, based primarily on studies done by the Agriculture and Interior Departments, was introduced in 1965 by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The main controversy of the bill focused on which rivers to protect. In order to lessen opposition, only rivers with the support of home state senators would be immediately designated. The Senate passed the bill in early 1966. A wild rivers bill was not seriously considered in the House that year, so the process began again in 1967. The Senate passed a modified version of Church's bill in August 1967. There was some concern that the House would not pass a bill before the end of the session, but under the leadership of Representative John Saylor of Pennsylvania, it did so in September 1968. The House and Senate worked out a compromise bill in conference, and the law was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in October.

Due to the compromise involving home state approval for each designated river, only eight rivers were designated immediately by the act, totaling 773 mi (1,244 km). Twenty-seven rivers were designated for further study. The law allows for the study and potential inclusion of rivers not listed in the original act. Additionally, rivers could be added if states request the federal government to designate a river in the state as part of the system (this has happened for two rivers in Ohio and one in Maine). This system encompasses rivers throughout the country. For example, the first group of designated rivers were in California, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. As of 2002, 10,955 mi (17,630 km) of 156 rivers had been designated under the act.

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Allin, C. W. The Politics of Wilderness Preservation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Dana, S. T., and S. K. Fairfax. Forest and Range Policy. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.

Palmer, T. Endangered Rivers and the Conservation Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.