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River Democracy Act would protect 4,700 miles of rivers and streams in Oregon

Written by on February 4, 2021

  • River Democracy Act introduced after years-long public process led by Wyden allowing Oregonians to submit their favorite rivers and streams to be considered for inclusion in legislation
  • Senators say ‘River Democracy Act’ will be a boon for rural jobs and the recreation economy, protect communities and watersheds from catastrophic wildfire risks

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today introduced the River Democracy Act to add nearly 4,700 miles of rivers and streams in Oregon to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system – the largest Wild and Scenic Rivers effort in our nation’s history.

Those named rivers and streams were among more than 15,000 nominations submitted by 2,500 Oregonians as part of Wyden’s statewide public effort to protect more of Oregon’s waterways and reduce catastrophic wildfire risks, improve drinking water and expand recreation access to boost rural jobs and economies.

Wyden said he looked forward to keeping the public process going and to continue getting feedback as he and Merkley work to get the River Democracy Act through Congress.

“Rivers and streams are Oregon’s lifeblood, providing clean drinking water for our families, sustaining our thriving outdoor recreation economy, and nurturing the quality of life that brings new investments, businesses and jobs to our state,” Wyden said. “Oregonians made it loud and clear: they cherish Oregon’s rivers and want them protected for generations to come. More protected rivers and clear management objectives means more jobs, improved wildfire resiliency and a guarantee for the livability of Oregon. The River Democracy Act represents the best of the Oregon Way, and I looked forward to continuing the conversation with our neighbors.”

“Our rivers and streams are some of the most special natural treasures Oregon has to offer, and have always been integral to the health and vitality of our communities and rural economies,” said Merkley. “By expanding Wild and Scenic designations, we can protect the health of these delicate ecosystems and strengthen access to high-quality drinking water, all while increasing wildfire resilience, bolstering our recreation economy, and ensuring that generations of Oregonians to come can enjoy the magic of our waters.”

The River Democracy Act builds on legislation Congress passed in 2019 that added more than 250 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers in Oregon. The state now has 2,173 miles designated in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system, but that total remains only a small fraction of Oregon’s 110,994 miles of rivers and streams.

Oregon’s rivers and streams fuel outdoor recreation, an economic engine in Oregon. According to the Outdoor Recreation Industry, outdoor recreation supports 224,000 jobs and generates $15.6 billion in consumer spending.

The River Democracy Act designates nearly 4,700 miles of rivers in all corners of Oregon as “Wild and Scenic Rivers” to expand recreation access and boost local economies, protect drinking water for families, reduce wildfire threats, and sustain endangered fish and wildlife species;
Requires federal land managers to assess wildfire risks in Wild and Scenic River corridors, implement a plan to reduce wildfire risks to homes and businesses near Wild and Scenic Rivers, assist local governments mitigate wildfire risks and restore water quality should a fire strike near a Wild and Scenic River;. Also, it encourages federal land managers to develop river management plans in collaboration with Native American tribes and ensures Native American tribes have a voice in how rivers are managed; and ensures that only federal lands are affected by Wild and Scenic designations, while protecting private property rights, water rights and existing permits and rights of way on federal lands.

Hearing from locals, “The Cow Creek Umpqua People have lived on the land and fished our waters since time immemorial. Our people have suffered through Removal, Termination and finally restored to manage our forests once again. We applaud Senator Wyden for including elements of management in his Wild and Scenic legislation that consider the sobering risks that wildfire poses to our river corridors. Careful management around our rivers is necessary to maintain good drinking water, healthy fish runs and the beauty that our rivers offer to us and our guests.” Dan Courtney, Chairman, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians explained.

In Oregon, Outdoor Recreation Industry statistics show that recreation supports 172,000 jobs in Oregon and generates $16.4 billion in economic activity statewide. 

A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.

A section-by-section summary of the legislation can be found here.

Legislative text can be found here.

A map of proposed rivers can be found here.

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