|John Day River, Oregon|
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) marked its fiftieth anniversary in 2018 without much fanfare. The WSRA has been somewhat overshadowed by the Wilderness Act, which preceded it by four years, and by the National Environmental Policy Act and the pollution control statutes which followed in the 1970s. But the WSRA was a significant conservation achievement, has now extended its protections to over 200 rivers, and has the potential to provide watershed protection to many more in the future. This article explains the statute and its implementation over the last half-century as well as a number of challenges to fulfilling its laudable goals of protecting free-flowing rivers, their water quality, and their “outstandingly remarkable values.” We make a number of suggestions to the managing agencies and to Congress if the WSRA’s achievements over the next half-century are to match the last fifty years, including reviving congressional interest in study rivers, updating managing agencies’ river plans to focus on non-federal lands within river corridors, and ensuring that those river plans provide the watershed protection Congress envisioned when it included a significant amount of riparian land within WSRA river corridors. We also call for a new emphasis on rivers that should be studied for their restoration potential and for more states to take advantage of the statute’s unusual pathway for state-designated rivers to gain WSRA protections.