This is the second part of a two-part series on the next wild and scenic rivers bill for Oregon. Part 1 focused on the nuts and bolts of what a wild and scenic river is, while Part 2 helps you nominate your favorite stream(s) for congressional consideration.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is asking his constituents to nominate possible new wild and scenic rivers for Oregon. You have until January 20, 2020. Don’t forget! Some Oregon river is (or some Oregon rivers are) depending on you.
General Criteria to Consider for Nominations
Congress can establish any stream that it wants as a wild and scenic river. However, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) sets forth guidelines regarding what can be included.
To qualify for inclusion in the NWSRS, a stream must be free-flowing and have at least one outstandingly remarkable value.
Free-flowing. First and foremost, a stream segment can be added to the NWSRS only if it is “existing or flowing in natural condition without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip-rapping, or other modification.” The WSRA goes on to say that “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.”
At least one outstandingly remarkable value. A stream segment is included in the NWSRS because it has outstandingly remarkable “scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values” (most have more than one). The language “other similar values” has been interpreted by Congress when making additions to the NWSRS, or by agencies administering WSRs, to include a myriad of other values specific to a particular WSR.
Though the WSRA mentions the term “outstandingly remarkable value” just once, such outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs) determine the amount and kinds of protection a WSR will receive. No administering agency has produced a definitive list of ORVs. At one time, the Bureau of Land Management defined “other similar values” in manual direction to its employees as “including, but not limited to, hydrologic, ecologic/biologic diversity, paleontologic, botanic, and scientific study opportunities.” Though I’ve not done an exhaustive analysis, I’ve found eighty-two distinct ORVs listed in management plans for various WSRs in Oregon, including “active glacier,” “wildlife habitat and populations,” particular kinds of statutory ORVs, and particular places of interest.
Other practical political constraints apply to which and what kinds of streams can make it through the congressional gauntlet. In general, nominated Oregon streams should be predominantly federal public land and should not overlap with existing wilderness areas.
Predominantly federal public land. After all, 52 percent of Oregon is federally owned. The WSRA, as a federal law, doesn’t apply to the management or use of nonfederal lands. There can be private inholdings along nominated streams, but they generally shouldn’t be inhabited by people. If the private landowner wants the stream to be included in a WSR, that’s a big plus.
No overlap with existing wilderness areas. Such streams are already protected and there is no need to use up the politically available miles on them.
By their legislative design, WSRs rarely receive comprehensive congressional protection. None receive protection for their entire watersheds but instead for relatively narrow (but vital!) stream corridors. While WSRs are vital to the conservation of Oregon’s public lands, they are best done as an underlying congressional conservation designation (wilderness is another) within an overarching comprehensive congressional conservation area, such as a national monument, park, wildlife refuge, or conservation, protection, recreation, or other national what-have-you area.
Not Just More But Also Better
In addition to including thousands of miles of new wild and scenic rivers for Oregon, the 2020 Wyden bill should fix a couple of grievous limitations in the original WSRA of 1968. It should close the mining loophole and provide mile-wide protective corridors.
Close the Mining Loophole
Under the default setting of the WSRA, only for streams classified as “wild” are federal lands withdrawn from mining. Those classified as either “scenic” or “recreational” are left open to the filing of mining claims and hardrock mining. The fact that a WSR segment has occasional road crossing (scenic) or a road along it (recreational) doesn’t mean that the values for which it was protected are any less outstandingly remarkable.
Senator Wyden’s WSR bills in the Senate have all withdrawn from mining the entire extent of the new or expanded WSR. It’s time to amend the WSRA so that any Oregon WSR, now or in the future, is protected from mining on federal lands.
Provide Mile-Wide Protective Corridors
Another default setting under the WSRA is that no more than 320 acres per stream mile protected can be included within a protective buffer. The administering agency can either set the boundary at the maximum one-quarter mile from each stream bank or it can move the acres around to best protect the outstandingly remarkable values (Map 1) by going wide in some spots and correspondingly narrow in others. In a few cases in Oregon (the Elk Creek, Elkhorn Creek, and Fifteenmile Creek WSRs), Congress has specifically protected a maximum of 640 acres per stream mile (a one-half-mile-wide buffer on each side of the stream). To more adequately protect the free-flowing stream and its outstandingly remarkable values, a mile-wide protected area should be the new minimum. In some cases, inclusion of the stream’s entire watershed is appropriate.
Call to Action
You don’t have to be an Oregon free-flowing stream expert to make a nomination. Your nomination can be as simple or as comprehensive as you like. Your nomination should include, at a minimum, the name and general location of the stream (there are hundreds of Oregon creeks named Rock). State the values that are outstandingly remarkable to you. If you have pictures or a map, you can attach them to your email. You are not limited in the number of streams you nominate.
You want to make the best case you can. If you want to prepare a little proposal (even though it’s not required), you can model it on the one I’m submitting for the proposed Chewaucan Wild and Scenic River. (Few Oregonians know of the Chewaucan and even fewer pronounce it as the locals do: CHEE-wah-CAN.)
Send your nominations no later than January 20, 2020 (but the sooner the better), to:
Don’t forget. Make a note. Put it on your calendar.
While you are at it, please inquire if your favorite conservation, outdoor recreation, or civic organization is making its nominations.
Figure 2. The South Fork Umatilla River in the proposed Forks of the Umatilla Wild and Scenic River and also in the Hellhole Roadless Area. A trail parallels the stream, which supports imperiled salmonids (salmon, steelhead, etc.) Source: George Wuerthner (first appeared in Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness).
For More Information
My Larch Occasional Paper entitled “National Wild and Scenic Rivers and State Scenic Waterways in Oregon” (19 pages, 2019, version #13.8) includes detailed information on each WSR in Oregon, including name, length, upper terminus, lower terminus, classification, administering agency, ecoregion, and more.
Several Public Lands Blog posts have examined wild and scenic rivers:
“The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System: Room for More Streams,” December 30, 2016. This post provides an overview of what makes wild and scenic rivers and how they are established, and examines several Oregon streams, most of which were designated WSRs by Congress in early 2019.
“Federal Systems for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Lands and Waters,” June 9, 2017. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System is but one of several national conservation systems established by Congress that include mostly, but not exclusively, federal public land.
“Closing the Mining Loophole for Wild and Scenic Rivers,” September 1, 2017. The single most egregious compromise in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was to allow mining to continue on federal public lands within those WSRs classified as “scenic” or “recreational.”
“The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, Part 1: A Vital National Conservation Purpose,” July 20, 2018. This first of two parts gives a national overview of the NWSRS with a special focus on Oregon.
“The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, Part 2: Rounding It Out and Cleaning It Up (For Oregon, If Not Elsewhere),” July 27, 2018. This second of two parts examines the congressional champions from Oregon in re wild and scenic rivers.
“Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers by the Numbers: Versus Other States and Congressional Delegation Rankings,” June 7, 2019. This post examines five key performance indicators (KPIs): number of units in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System; total wild and scenic river miles; total acreage protected in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System; percentage of a state’s streams that are national wild and scenic rivers; and wild and scenic river rankings of the Oregon congressional delegation.
The very useful and informative interagency (National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service) website for existing WSRs is www.rivers.gov.
More on WSR ORVs can be found in a memorandum to interested parties I prepared on the subject, entitled “Outstandingly Remarkable Values Identified for Wild and Scenic Rivers in Oregon” (October 27, 2019 revision).
You also may want to check out my Wild and Scenic Rivers webpage.
Figure 3. The North Fork Malheur Wild and Scenic River, established in 1988. Not only should additional mainstem below the national forest boundary be added, but also should its Bear Creek and Sheep Creek tributaries. In addition, a segment of the mainstem that is currently classified as “scenic” should be upgraded to “wild.” Source: Sandy Lonsdale (first appeared in Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness).