2002 California Wild Heritage Act
On May 21, 2002, Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the California Wild Heritage Act into the U.S. Senate, which would protect over 2.7 million acres of California as wilderness. On December 19, 2002, President Bush signed the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act, which protected the wild areas in Representative Sam Farr's 17th district. More recently, Congress has approved the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act. This legislation, introduced by Representative Mike Thompson (D-Napa) and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, will designate as wilderness 275,000 acres of pristine and remote stretches of public land in Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, and Napa counties. Some of the lands to be protected by this legislation include the King Range, the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States, and Cache Creek, home to the second largest wintering bald eagle population in California and a popular recreation destination for Bay Area and Sacramento residents. The legislation will also designate over 21 miles of the Black Butte River as a Wild and Scenic River, prohibiting future construction of dams and diversions.
1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
In the 1960s, the country awoke to the fact that our rivers were being dammed, dredged, diked, diverted, and degraded at an alarming rate. To lend balance to our history of use and abuse of our waterways, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. In October of 1968, the freshly penned Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pronounced:
"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."
While sometimes cri?icized as not reaching its full potential, there is little doubt that when applied, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has usually been a rousing success. The Wild and Scenic Rivers System now protects many of the rivers of our history, our literature, our nation's youth. John Muir's Tuolumne River and his famous, losing battle to stop the flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley; the Delaware River of the American Revolution; Zane Grey's famous flyfishing river, the North Umpqua; the Missouri of Lewis and Clark's journeys. Great rivers from our past, now guaranteed to be great rivers in our future.
But designation as a wild and scenic river is not designation as a national park. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not generally affect a river like a wilderness designation. The idea is not to halt development of a river; instead, the goal is to preserve the character of a river. Uses compatible with the management goals of a particular river are allowed; change is expected to happen.
As you might guess, a large percentage of wild and scenic rivers flow through the Northwest. Oregon has 46 designated rivers, including the spectacular Klamath River -- and its incredible abundance of wildlife -- which was added to the Wild and Scenic River System following a 15-year battle over the proposed Salt Caves Hydroelectric Project. The last section of the Columbia River in Washington that does not lie behind federal and private dams is currently being considered for designation. (Curiously enough, this reach is eligible because it has lain protected within the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the site of Cold War atomic bomb production.) Idaho has some of our most celebrated wild rivers -- Salmon, Snake, and Selway, among others. Together with Alaska, our northwest states contribute well over half of the rivers in the National Wild and Scenic System.
In California, Friends of the River advocates for the protection of our wild and scenic rivers. Founded in 1973, Friends of the River has led successful campaigns for the permanent protection of many outstanding California rivers and streams - including the Kings, Kern, Merced, Tuolumne, upper Klamath, West Walker, East Carson, Sisquoc, and Big Sur Rivers; and Sespe Creek.
There are many rivers already protected for you to enjoy. Grab a flyrod, load the kayak on the car, slip on your most comfortable walking shoes. Get out there and savor your natural heritage. But go slow, and enjoy every minute of your trip to the river. Because of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, you've got the time.
Information adapted from the National Park Service web site at www.nps.gov/rivers.
1964 Wilderness Act
The Wilderness Act of 1964 created a National Wilderness Preservation System and established the definition of wilderness that is still used today. The Act defines wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
The Act further goes on to define wilderness as "an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation." Wilderness areas are at least 5,000 acres in size (with limited exceptions), are relatively pristine with the imprint of man's work "substantially unnoticeable," provide opportunities for backcountry recreation, and may contain outstanding social or ecological values.