Utah plans to join the Wild and Scenic Rivers System

  For almost 40 years, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has been protecting beautiful rivers in states across the West – except two.

Utah and Nevada have yet to place any rivers on the Wild and Scenic list, which was started in 1968 to protect outstanding rivers from development. For Utah, however, that could change within the year. The Bureau of Land Management in Utah recently identified 30 river segments that are eligible for designation; another 118 are still being considered. The eligible segments include stretches of the Green River, Nine Mile Creek and Bitter Creek.

Unlike Utah, however, Nevada has no plans to nominate any rivers. “I suppose the main reason is that Nevada is a very arid state and we don’t have many rivers,” says Dante Pistone of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

The National Wild and Scenic River System preserves the natural beauty of designated rivers while keeping them open to the public for fishing, hiking and rafting. “Designated rivers need to meet two criteria – free-flowing as defined by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and possessing at least one ‘outstandingly remarkable value,’ ” says Dan Haas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Outstandingly remarkable values” are the natural or cultural attributes that make a river worthy of protection (for example, glaciated river canyons, historic Indian villages, excellent water quality, or world-renowned waterfalls). To preserve the free-flowing character of these rivers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cannot license construction for objects that would obstruct them, such as dams and powerhouses.

Across the nation, 11,409 segments of about 165 different rivers qualify as wild and scenic. About 70 percent of them are located in the West. Some of the best known include California’s Big Sur River, one of the longest coastal streams, which is lined with towering redwoods, and the Deschutes River in Oregon, which offers excellent whitewater rafting and a remarkable steelhead and native rainbow trout fishery.

If and when the Utah river segments are designated wild and scenic, their management will be turned over to the federal agencies that manage the adjacent lands, such as the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service.

The wild and scenic designation preserves the special rivers of the West, says Mark Danenhauer of the Utah Rivers Council: “This is the only way to ensure that my children, your children, and our grandchildren will be able to visit these rivers and experience them in the same condition as they are today.”