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In resp onse to the alarming rate of damming, dredging, diking, diverting, and destruction of many rivers and free-flowing water sources in the 1960s, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968). Human destruction and indifference toward the nation’s system of rivers in the late 20th century was becoming a crisis and government intervention was deemed necessary to prevent further spoilage of natural river environments. However, the act does not designate rivers as national parks-it merely serves to protect their ecological and aesthetic integrity. The goal behind the national system is not to stop the progress of development of rivers but to defend their character and require that any or all development ensures the security of the free-flowing water.
When the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968, immediate action was taken to improve the function and the value of many polluted or clogged rivers and other free-flowing bodies. The act defines a river as “a flowing body of water or estuary, or a section, portion, or tributary thereof, including rivers, streams, creeks, runs, kills, rills, and small lakes.” “Free-flowing,” in turn, is defined as “existing or flowing in natural conditions without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip-rapping or other modification of the waterway.” In addition to government intervention, many volunteers were enlisted near affected areas to restore contaminated rivers and to keep unaffected rivers in a more natural state, which is often described as a “living landscape.” The actual policy of the act is to make certain that selected rivers possessing remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values are preserved in free-flowing condition and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
The National Wild and Scenic River Act classifies each included river as wild, scenic, or recreational. Wild rivers are those that are generally only accessible by trail and are free of impoundments. In most cases, these rivers are unpolluted and are taken to be a representation of pre-Columbian America. Scenic rivers are similar to wild rivers in that they are free of pollutants and impoundments, but are accessible by both trails and roads. Recreational rivers are denoted by easy accessibility by road, railroad, or both; having or not having had impoundments in the past; and having or not having development along shorelines. The act also indicates specific rivers that are protected and the methods and agendas for adding additional water bodies to the act. Agencies that manage the rivers covered by the act include some state agencies, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, among others.
While a majority of the included rivers are located in the wildernesses of Alaska and the northwest portion of the United States, other rivers covered include the Rio Grande (New Mexico and Texas portions); Michigan’s Au Sable, Pere Marquette, Black, Bear Creek, and Manistee; and selected segments of the Delaware.
- Paul Bledsoe, “Babbitt Commemorates 30th Anniversary of Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” www.doi.gov/news/archives;
- Federal Wildlife Laws Handbook, “Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” unm.edu/cwl;
- Dotti Lewis, “Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” Marquette County Community Information System, www.mqtinfo.org;
- National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, www. gov.