On February 3rd, 2021, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced the River Democracy Act of 2021, which will designate 4,700 miles of iconic Oregon rivers as Wild and Scenic waters. If successful, the River Democracy Act of 2021 will make Oregon the state with the most designated Wild and Scenic river miles in the nation, protecting wild fish, recreation, and the state's natural treasures for our communities today and for their future generations yet to come.
"As a full time fishing guide in central Oregon, the river is my way of life and income. Designating Wild and Scenic Rivers will ensure habitat protections for fish, people, and wildlife who call Oregon home,” says Warm Springs River Steward Matt Mendes. “I live in Warm Springs where fresh drinking water is hard to come by. Securing clean drinking water for thousands of people across Oregon is monumental. Thank you Senator Wyden for your efforts to protect Wild and Scenic Rivers."
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 was created by Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.
Native Fish Society is excited to see protections added to a number of watersheds throughout the state of Oregon. From the plains of eastern Oregon to southwest Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast, Senator Wyden's bill will benefit the wild, native fish of Oregon and ensure that our fisheries have the healthy riparian habitats they need to survive and thrive in the face of climate and ocean change.
“Oregon’s wild fish and rivers define our landscapes and shared heritage,” says NFS Conservation Director Jennifer Fairbrother. “Conserving these waters for the many values they offer ensures that these rivers can continue to nourish our ecosystems, wild fish, and communities.”
The bill is also a recognition of the role that outdoor recreation, tourism, and other businesses supported by rivers will play in getting local, rural economies back on their feet. Wild and Scenic River designations will protect these waters while allowing traditional activities like hunting and fishing to continue. Outdoor recreation in the state supports 172,200 jobs and generates $16.4 billion in consumer spending.
“South Coast Tours and its guides support the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and all the conservation-minded visitors that those designations bring to the south coast of Oregon. We value our wild rivers so much that we call the southern Oregon coast ‘The Wild Rivers Coast’ where there are more Wild and Scenic Rivers concentrated than anywhere else in the lower 48. Thank you, Senator Wyden - we support further designations and rely on those wild river experiences to make us competitive in the tourism industry,” said Dave Lacey, owner of South Coast Tours in Gold Beach and Native Fish River Steward for Hunter Creek.
The bill will add stream corridor protections for rivers threatened by strip mining, now temporarily safeguarded by the Southwest Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. It will also bring attention back to the proposed ORE Act which provides perment protection for strip mining in threatened watersheds of Southwest Oregon. Protecting key tributaries and rivers is a commitment to future generations that they will be able to paddle, hike, fish, boat, and see the same wild rivers current residents have been able to enjoy.
Oregonians, please take a moment to thank Senators Wyden and Merkley for his leadership and urge Congress to move this bill forward.