How much do you know about wild and scenic rivers-as in the officially designated ones? Let’s do a deep dive. It takes an act of Congress to designate a wild and scenic river. Here in Idaho we have some spectacular ones-the main Salmon River through the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return, the Middle Fork Clearwater River and the Saint Joe River. With approximately 107,650 miles of river flowing through Idaho, it’s no wonder we’re known as the whitewater state. Of course, many of our rivers are very scenic and wild. But of all those river miles, only 891 miles-less than 1%-are actually designated as wild and scenic.
How Does Congress Determine Which Rivers Should be Designated?
Good question. One pathway is when a land management agency, such as the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, recommends a river stretch for designation in their resource management plan. A resource management plan (RMP) guides the ways in which our public lands are managed, such as where and how timber is harvested, how wetlands areas are cared for and how fire is managed. Wild and scenic river recommendations in an RMP can serve as a guideline for developing later legislation that Congress would use to designate a wild and scenic river stretch.
Determining Wild and Scenic Recommendations in a Resource Management Plan
The 2012 Forest Service Planning Rule requires that when a national forest revises their RMP, they identify the eligibility of rivers on the forest for recommended inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This is known as "wild and scenic eligibility" process.
The forest will evaluate a river section by section to determine whether each section meets the minimum qualifications to be eligible. This requires that a river be free flowing and exhibit one or more outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs). ORVs may include scenic, recreational, geological, fish, wildlife, historical/cultural and/or botanical values.
Once this initial eligibility assessment is complete, the forest may go through a second process call "suitability." This is where the forest will use criteria to either qualify or disqualify river sections based on public support, economic considerations and land ownership. Often, river sections that are free flowing and exhibit ORVs may be disqualified in this process because of lack of support.
Happening in Idaho Right Now
The Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in north-central Idaho are both going through resource management plan revisions. For this, they are evaluating all river reaches on those forests for eligibility and suitability for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This process is incredibly important because once a forest recommends a river section for wild and scenic eligibility, the management of the area can be designed in a way that preserves that river stretch until Congress decides to either include or not include the river section in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
We Need Your Help
Both the Salmon-Challis and the Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests are looking for public feedback on which river sections are important to you and why. Each forest has their own interactive maps that describe their wild and scenic river process, provide opportunities to explore where different rivers are on the forest, and provide a form for public feedback. Take some time to explore the links below. We encourage you to tell the Salmon-Challis and Nez Perce-Clearwater which river sections you love and why:
- Nez Perce–Clearwater interactive wild and scenic river inventory map and comment form
- Salmon-Challis interactive wild and scenic river inventory map and comment form
Want to stay up to date on the wild and scenic river evaluations or these revisions to the resource management plans? Send an email and we’ll add you to our update list.