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Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley Introduce Bill to Designate Over 4,700 River Miles as Wild and Scenic

By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
February 3, 2021

T oday, Senator Wyden (D-OR) introduced the River Democracy Act, an amendment to the The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System Act to include an additional 4,700 river miles throughout Oregon. Congress originally passed the Act in 1968 to provide an additional level of protection for free-flowing rivers with remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, or historic values.

“Declaring Oregon's rivers and streams as Wild and Scenic not only preserves pristine riparian habitat and spawning grounds, but helps preserve our Northwest fishing heritage and the vast economy that angling supports,” said Executive Director Chris Hager. “This is the leadership Oregon needs if we want to recover critically listed salmon and steelhead throughout our state.”

Driven by years of grassroots community engagement, including over 15,000 river nominations from 2,500 Oregonians, the proposed River Democracy Act would more than double 2,173 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers Oregon currently protects. It includes free-flowing segments of the Alsea, Umpqua, Deschutes, Grand Ronde, McKenzie, Nestucca, Rogue, Santiam, and Clackamas rivers.

“Safeguarding the wild and untamed beauty of the upper Clackamas as a Wild and Scenic River is a lasting legacy that will long have rippling effects downstream,” said Morgan Parks, life-long Eagle Creek resident and NWF Oregon Education Manager.

The proposed legislation is especially important right now, when so many of Oregon’s rivers are significantly degraded from years of bearing the brunt of development. Oregon’s estimated 110,000 river miles are littered with more than 1,100 dams – blocking salmon access, polluting waterways, and changing river conditions that dramatically affect endangered fish and our fishing opportunities.

NW Oregon river advocate Eric Shoemaker described some of the river segments identified for additional protection as “highly complex, productive, and unique ecosystems that are unquestionably among our ‘last best places.’”

State and federal agencies manage Wild and Scenic Rivers to ensure their special characteristics, recreational opportunities, and pristine conditions are permanently protected and maintained. Most importantly, Wild and Scenic Rivers are protected from a variety of damaging activities, including damming, bank alternation, and resource extraction within at least a quarter mile of each side of the stream.

“It is an important, cost-effective conservation tool. This legislation will protect salmon habitat and the pristine places that support our health and well being,” said Board Member Norm Ritchie.