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Wild About Rivers 

Oregon gets more miles of Wild and Scenic river designations

Amid the fever pitch of a long-awaited spring equinox, boaters, kayakers and other water-loving Oregonians are celebrating the recent victories won with the Natural Resources Management Act.

The Natural Resources Management Act included an official name change for Central Oregon's 
Wild and Scenic Whychus Creek, formerly known as Squaw Creek. - ZACHARY COLLIER, FLICKR
  • Zachary Collier, Flickr
  • The Natural Resources Management Act included an official name change for Central Oregon's Wild and Scenic Whychus Creek, formerly known as Squaw Creek.

Passage of the Act, also known as the public lands bill, means new Wild and Scenic River designations for 621 miles of rivers nationwide—plus, additional default river protections within 2.5 million acres of newly protected lands—landscapes containing many waterways. In Oregon, the Act sets aside roughly 256 miles of new Wild and Scenic designations through the Oregon Wildlands Act, which was combined with the overall Act.

The Wild and Scenic designation is the strongest form of federal protection for free-flowing rivers and streams. By giving areas the Wild and Scenic designation, Congress recognizes them as having remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic or other similar values. The designation equates to prohibitions for industry and development such as roads, dams and mining, and extraction of other, often-finite resources.

Originally enacted in 1968, 2019 marks the 51st year of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

With the passage of the public lands bill, Oregon now also has the highest number of Wild and Scenic designations in the Nation.

While a good portion of the new designations are for Oregon rivers in the Elk River, Molalla and Rogue river watersheds, the Act also impacted at least one river locally.

According to Priscilla Macy, regional coordinator for the national river conservation nonprofit, American Whitewater, the Act also, "accomplishes the long-overdue name change for Oregon's Wild and Scenic Whychus Creek—formerly known as Squaw Creek, a derogatory and obsolete term, and protects 99,653 acres in Oregon's North Umpqua River watershed as a sanctuary for some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest."

Macy also notes that the Act will "protect the Wild and Scenic Chetco River in Oregon from harmful mining activities."

As a top-notch kayaker, Macy reflects, "I've paddled a few of these [Wild and Scenic River] locations. Perhaps the most memorable was the North Fork Silver Creek. NF Silver Creek is a tributary to the Illinois River in southern Oregon, and perhaps the best overall whitewater run in Oregon. It's rugged and demands self-sufficiency.... A place in Oregon that just being there requires a certain level of competence, whether hiking in the summer, or padding in the spring."

Macy maintains a podcast covering adventures on rivers at rivertalkpodcast.com.

After the Act passed in the House Feb. 26, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tweeted, "Proud to have worked to build on Oregon's strong conservation legacy with final passage yesterday of the biggest public lands package in a decade." Wyden has protected more miles of national Wild and Scenic Rivers in his home state than any member of Congress.

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