The 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

On October 2, 1968 Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Since the act passed, 12,734 miles of 208 rivers in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have been protected. This number represents a little bit more than one-quarter of one percent of the nation's rivers. In 2018 we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of its passage!

History of the Act

In the late 1960s the United States was in a period of significant political and social upheaval. Across the country there was a growing recognition of the damage being caused to natural and cultural resources, the landscape, our drinking water and our American heritage.

Starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s environmental legislation began to make its way through congress. The first major legislation was the Clean Air Act, this was followed by many others including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Championed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968, the act was the culmination of a long battle to preserve free flowing rivers in an era of extensive dam building and preserve some of the last wild rivers in the US.

"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 dams 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 other vital national conservation purposes."
(Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)

What the Act Does