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FOR Logo Friends of the River
 The voice of California's rivers

Wild & Scenic River Preservation

 Intent of Congress


Meet the FOR staff dedicated to the preservation of wild & scenic rivers:

Steve Evans

Conservation Director
Steve Evans
(916) 442-3155 ext. 221

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be 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 Congress declares that the established national policy of dam and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill over vital conservation purposes.


Wild & Scenic River Campaigns


Little Sur Waterfall

Almost 200,000 miles of rivers and streams flow through California, and they serve many vital roles. Yet only 1% of these rivers is currently protected from destruction and pollution. Too often the rivers that people see are already dammed, diverted, and deteriorated. As part of our common sense, 20 year plan to save California rivers, we will aim to get more of these rivers protected in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System so more people can actively enjoy their rivers.

The National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271-1287) is the nation’s primary river conservation law. (To learn about  State Wild & Scenic Protection, click here.) Enacted in 1968 and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the Act was specifically intended by Congress to balance the existing policy of building dams on rivers for water supply, power, and other benefits, with a new policy of protecting the free flowing character and outstanding values of other rivers. Congress concluded that selected rivers and streams should be preserved in a free-flowing condition for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. These policies are forthrightly expressed in the Act:

Carmel River

The Act requires federal agencies to develop a comprehensive river management plan for designated rivers three years after designation. This plan is intended to establish river corridor boundaries, appropriate classification, segment descriptions, and specific management to protect free flowing condition and outstanding values. Management plans may establish varying degrees of intensity for protection and development, based on the river’s special attributes.

In addition, the Act requires federal management policies, regulations, contracts, and plans affecting public lands along designated rivers to comply with the purposes of the Act. Federal agencies are specifically required to cooperate with the Environmental Protection Agency in regard to eliminating or diminishing water pollution in designated rivers. Cooperative agreements for the joint federal and state management of rivers are encouraged, as is the establishment of and federal assistance to state river systems. Public lands within the designated river corridor are withdrawn from sale or other disposition.

Private Lands


Because the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act confers no federal authority over private land use or local zoning, there is no practical impact on private property. Riverside land owners will not be told what to do with their property or have their land confiscated by the federal government. The Act encourages but does not require complementary county and city zoning and land use practices for private lands within the river corridor.




Mining on public lands with a designated river is subject to valid existing rights. New mining claims on public lands within Wild segments are prohibited. The Act authorizes federal agencies to adopt specific regulations pertinent to mining, although no such regulations have been developed.


 Water Rights


The state's authority to regulate water rights remains unaffected by designation. However, designation reserves water in designated rivers in quantities sufficient to accomplish the purposes the Act (protect and enhance free flowing conditions and outstanding values). Use of this federal water reservation is not automatic. Since states retain jurisdiction over water rights, managing federal agencies must apply to the appropriate state water rights agency for the instream water reservation, which is considered junior to other rights existing at the time of designation.


 River Study & Designation


Congress may designate rivers outright through legislation or may direct federal agencies to conduct studies and make recommendations concerning future designation. In addition, the Act requires federal agencies to identify, study, and recommend potential Wild & Scenic Rivers in all land, water, and resource planning programs. State designated rivers may be added to the federal system upon the request of the state’s Governor and approval of the Interior Secretary. Such rivers are managed by the state.


Current Campaigns (2013-2014)


Since our inception in 1973, Friends of the River has played a significant role in the protection of more than 2,000 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers in California. Just some of our notable achievements include legislative campaigns that protected the Tuolumne River in 1984; the Kern, Kings, and Merced Rivers in 1987; the Big Sur River, Sisquoc River, and Sespe Creek in 1992; the Black Butte River in 2006; and the Owens River Headwaters, Cottonwood Creek, Amargosa River, Piru Creek, Palm Canyon Creek, Bautista Creek, and the North Fork San Jacinto River in 2009. 

Friends of the River is working with a coalition of conservation groups and several members of Congress to develop comprehensive Wild & Scenic River and Wilderness proposals for targeted Congressional districts in California. We anticipate that many of these bills will be introduced in the 113th Congress (2013-14). Our targeted legislative campaigns include:

  • Yolla-Bolly Middle EelNorth Coast: The North Coast region in northwest California has more than a thousand miles of Wild & Scenic River candidates, many of which support sensitive, threatened, or endangered salmon and steelhead populations. Friends of the River and its allies have asked Representative Jared Huffman to consider introducing comprehensive wild river and wilderness legislation for the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity, and parts of Sonoma and Marin Counties. Some likely river candidates to be considered for legislative protection include the upper South Fork Trinity River and its tributaries, the Little South Fork Elk River in the Headwaters Forest Reserve, the Mattole River and its tributaries in the King Range National Conservation Area, and Olema Creek in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
  • Santa Ynez RiverCentral Coast: The 24th and 26th Congressional Districts, which encompass public lands in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties, has more than 262 miles of Wild & Scenic River candidates. These streams offer outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities and important habitat for a plethora of endangered species, including the southern steelhead, arroyo toad, and California condor. Friends of the River and its allies have asked Representatives Lois Capps and Julia Brownley to consider introducing comprehensive wild river and wilderness legislation for this region. High priority candidate streams to be considered include upper Sespe Creek, upper Piru Creek, the Santa Ynez River and its tributaries, and the Salinas River.
  • arroyo seco.JPGBig Sur & Coast Range: The 20th Congressional District in Monterey and San Benito Counties has some of the most beautiful and iconic public lands in California, including the spectacular Big Sur Coast. There are more than 161 miles of candidate Wild & Scenic Rivers in this region, stretching from the redwood forests of the Little Sur River to the oak woodlands and serpentine barrens of the San Benito River. Although the bill failed to progress in Congress, Representative Sam Farr introduced legislation in 2009 that proposed protection for more than 91 miles of rivers and streams near Big Sur, including portions of the Arroyo Seco, Carmel, and San Antonio Rivers and their tributaries. Friends of the River and its allies are encouraging Rep. Farr to reintroduce this legislation in the 113th Congress.
  • San Gabriel Hikers BacksSan Gabriel Mountains: The south state’s San Gabriel Mountain Range sprawls over portions of the 27th and 28th Congressional Districts. There are more than 121 miles of candidate Wild & Scenic Rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains, which represent 70% of the open space in Los Angeles County. Friends of the River is working with a broad coalition of social justice and conservation groups in support of establishing a San Gabriel National Recreation Area (NRA) that would include much of the San Gabriel Mountains and the lower San Gabriel River. Representatives Judy Chu and Adam Schiff are considering legislation that would establish the NRA and protect Wild & Scenic Rivers and Wilderness additions on the Angeles National Forest. Top candidates for Wild & Scenic protection include the East, North, and West Forks of the upper San Gabriel River, San Antonio Creek, and Little Rock Creek.
  • Deep Creek 3California Desert: Friends of the River is working with coalition of groups advocating for protection of public lands in the California Desert. Senator Dianne Feinstein intends to reintroduce her bill to protect more than 72 miles of desert streams as Wild & Scenic. The streams include the Whitewater River, Deep Creek, an addition to the Amargosa River (protected in 2009), and Surprise Canyon near Death Valley. Her bill will also likely propose protection of thousands of acres of Wilderness and National Monuments. We anticipate that desert legislation could be reintroduced later in in the 113th Congress (2013-14).

Tim Palmer, Little Truckee River ThumbnailWild & Scenic River Studies – The Forest Service and other federal land management agencies are required by law to identify, study, and recommend Wild & Scenic protection for candidate rivers and streams in their respective land and resource planning processes. The Forest Service is revising its Forest Plans for the Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forests in 2013. Friends of the River is lobbying the Forest Service to ensure that these plan revisions incorporate Wild & Scenic River studies on more than 311 of eligible or potentially eligible streams and rivers, including segments of the Kings River, lower Kern River, Tule River, and Hot Creek. The Forest Service will likely have draft Forest Plan Revisions available for public review and comment sometime in 2014. In addition, the Forest Service will likely finalize its Forest Plan Revision for the Lake Tahoe Basin in 2013. Last year, Friends of the River helped mobilize hundreds of public comments in support of protection up to 32 miles of the upper Truckee River and its tributaries as Wild & Scenic.


merced 3-28Wild Rivers Defense – The next two years pose serious threats to supposedly protected Wild & Scenic Rivers, as well as candidate rivers and streams. Currently, Friends of the River is opposing in Congress H.R. 934, a bill that proposes to roll back federal protection for a segment of the Wild Merced River to allow for possible expansion of New Exchequer Reservoir (go to for more information). In addition, federal and state agencies are studying three dam projects that could drown Wild & Scenic River candidates behind new or expanded dams, including segments of the McCloud and upper Sacramento Rivers, and the San Joaquin River Gorge. Friends of the River will mobilize public response and comments in support of river protection when state and federal agencies release environmental studies for these dam projects. In addition, Friends of the River will educate California voters, who will be asked in November 2014 to vote on a multi-billion dollar water bond that could provide billions of dollars of public funding to help build these destructive projects.

For more information concerning Friends of the River’s Wild & Scenic River Campaigns for 2013-14, please contact Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Consultant, phone: (916) 708-3155; email: sevans<at>

Additional Resources 


For More Information
For more information about California rivers in the national system, contact Steven L. Evans, Conservation Director, Friends of the River, Phone: (916) 442-3155, Ext. 221. Click here to send your appreciation, thanking those that have succeeded in protecting California Rivers. 

For more information about the national system in general, visit the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System website.


For more background information, download these publications:

What's Wrong With This Picture?

 What's Wrong
With Our Rivers?
(400 kb PDF)

Preserve Our Rivers

Preserve Our Rivers
Enjoy Them Forever
(450 kb, PDF)

Blackrock Wilderness, Big Sur

Wild & Scenic Rivers
(600kb, PDF)


Watch as President Obama Signs Major Public Lands Protections:

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National Wild & Scenic Rivers In California

  • Amargosa River (2009)
  • American River (including lower and North Fork – 1981)
  • Bautista Creek (2009)
  • Black Butte River & Cold Creek (2006)
  • Big Sur River (1992)
  • Cottonwood Creek (2009)
  • Eel River (North, Middle, South Forks, main stem – 1981)
  • Middle Fork Feather River (1968)
  • Kern River (North, South Forks – 1987)
  • Kings River (Middle, South Forks, main stem – 1987)
  • Klamath River (1981)
  • Merced River (main stem, South Fork – 1987 & 1992)
  • Owens River (headwaters 2009)
  • Palm Canyon Creek (2009)
  • Piru Creek (2009)
  • Salmon River (North, South Forks – 1981)
  • North Fork San Jacinto River & Fuller Mill Creek (2009)
  • Scott River (1981)
  • Sespe Creek (1992)
  • Sisquoc River (1992)
  • Smith River (all forks and tributaries – 1981 & 1992)
  • Trinity River (North, South Forks, main stem – 1981)
  • Tuolumne River (1984)
  • Van Duzen River (1981)


River Information

Regional Maps

California Wild & Scenic Rivers Act

National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act

Scenic Rivers Act FAQ

River Safety Tips

River Gauges

River-Related Environmental Organizations

Questions or comments: