Federal Protection and Preservation of Wild and Scenic Rivers Is Slow and Costly

CED-78-96: Published: May 22, 1978. Publicly Released: May 22, 1978.

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In 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act established the policy that certain rivers which possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreation, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values should be preserved in free-flowing condition and protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The act designated 8 rivers as components of a national wild and scenic rivers system and provided for expansion through legislation following studies of other wild and scenic rivers by the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior and for the addition of state-administered wild and scenic rivers.

As of December 1977, only 11 rivers had been added to the national system although 58 rivers had been identified as potential additions. There are two reasons for the slow progress: (1) federal agencies take an average of more than 6.5 years to complete the studies necessary to assess a river's eligibility for the national system; and (2) states have not opted to nominate state-administered rivers because national designation contributes to increased river use with the attendant problems of deterioration of scenic value and increased administrative costs. River studies are not meeting the target completion dates of 22 and 30 months suggested by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and the Forest Service. The primary reasons are that the two agencies have not developed or issued instructions to guide the conduct of river studies and study teams have lacked experienced and qualified personnel. The wild and scenic values of some rivers have deteriorated due, in part, to slow progress in designating rivers to the national system.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should improve the timeliness of future river studies by: (1) starting river studies sooner; (2) developing guidelines on how river studies should be conducted; (3) keeping track of how the studies are progressing and holding study teams to timeframes; (4) using experienced personnel to conduct additional studies; (5) integrating environmental impact studies into river studies; and (6) using the expertise and information available in other federal and state agencies rather than researching and developing already available information. The Secretaries should also require the heads of their services and bureaus to work with state and local governments to minimize land acquisitions by coordinating federal management with local zoning to preserve existing rivers.

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