In December 2022 U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on December 6 announced a new River Democracy Act that reflects input from communities across Oregon over the past year to update the total mileage of rivers and streams in Oregon that would be added to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
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 approximately 3,215 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;
- 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.
The total mileage of rivers and streams in the revised bill is approximately 3,215 miles (updated maps here), compared to 4,700 miles in the original bill.
“We added our voice to those calling for the addition of more than five miles of Bridge Creek to Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed River Democracy Act that would enlarge Oregon’s wild and scenic rivers network, said FOMR President William Tweed. “This section of Bridge Creek, all of it within the BLM’s Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area, flows into Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a few miles north of Frenchglen and adds its water to the Donner and Blitzen River. If Wyden’s bill is enacted, the designation of Bridge Creek as a Wild River will help protect water quality in the southern part of the refuge. In early December, in response to our letter, among others, Wyden added Bridge Creek to his bill.”
The approximately 5.5-mile segment of Bridge Creek from the confluence of Big Bridge Creek and Little Bridge Creeks to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge boundary as a Wild River.