America's rivers act as veins of life, threading across the nation to nurture countless plant and animal species with their precious water and bringing beauty and quiet-recreation opportunities to people. But free-flowing rivers are increasingly — and tragically — rare: In the last century, more than 60,000 major dams were constructed on U.S. waterways, affecting nearly every river and stream in the country, including the Colorado, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The few rivers and streams that still flow free are often severely degraded by pollution, mining, road building, livestock grazing, energy development, and logging. Needless to say, these activities have brought crisis to species that depend on rivers, from fish to birds to riparian plants.

Passed in 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is a federal law addressing the threats our country's rivers face, absolutely prohibiting dam construction on designated “wild and scenic” rivers and requiring the protection of river habitat from other human-caused damage. Since the act's passage, nearly 11,000 miles of river on 165 river segments have been federally designated as wild and scenic. Unfortunately, very few rivers in the Southwest, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and other regions have been designated as wild and scenic, and even the rivers that have been granted this status are often neglected by the agencies that manage them.

The Center engages in a variety of important campaigns to preserve the majesty of our country's waterways, and advocating for wild and scenic rivers is a crucial part of our work. Since 1998, we've compelled New Mexico national forests to identify more than 800 miles of wild and scenic rivers, sued the Forest Service for failing to properly manage wild and scenic rivers on the Los Padres National Forest, taken action to protect more than 750 miles of potential wild and scenic rivers in Arizona, and joined local activists in calling for protection of wild and scenic rivers on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We'll continue to be an important force in the struggle to grant threatened rivers throughout the country the permanent protection they need under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.


Great Lakes Region

Photo of Au Sable River in Michigan by cseeman/Flickr.