Wild and scenic rivers flow through almost every region of Idaho, forever memorializing a time when all rivers ran clean and free. Some of us have intimate relationships with the farthest reaches, the nooks and crannies of wild rivers, from the deepest canyon in the continent, to a quiet cedar-soaked stream. We seek solitude and adventure when we plummet into a river. We ignite wildness inside ourselves, pumping adventure through our veins as we parallel travel through the pathways of Idaho.
Preserved wild river systems owe their health to The Wild and Scenic River Act, an law passed in 1968 “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” When a river is considered for designation, the first parameter is free-flowing. A free-flowing river replicates the wild spirit of a time before alterations, possessing innate advocacy for protection.
The environmental movement of the late 1960s did not overlook protective legislation for the blood vessels of our country. Wild and scenic designation goes beyond clean water, it pays tribute to every complex meaning a river may hold. In the parlance of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, these meanings are called Outstandingly Remarkable Values such as: culture, ecology, fisheries, geology, recreation, scenery and wildlife.
Once a river is found by a federal land management agency to meet one or more of these values, designation considerations open for public comment. Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the public holds power to weigh in on how their rivers are managed and add more rivers they think ought to be considered Wild, Scenic or Recreational, due to Outstandingly Remarkable Values.
There are two wild and scenic comment cycles open in Idaho this summer. The Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest are accepting comments for rivers on their forests. The beauty of this process is that individuals have the opportunity to let public land managers know how much they love a river, and why. Agencies are always looking for specifics, encouraging public comments on intimate details about wild experiences in the far reaches of mountain rivers.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest is home to one of the most iconic wild and scenic rivers in the country, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This river is Wild meaning recreation is limited to non-motorized use to ensure the river can continue to provide pristine, undisturbed habitat for anadromous salmon and steelhead, and resident bull trout and cutthroat trout. The river’s visitors often boast that that a Middle Fork experience is tranformational. People find themselves out there.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest also manages some of the first rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic River Act, the Middle Fork of the Clearwater, Lochsa and Selway Rivers. These secluded destinations possess pristine fisheries for steelhead and salmon, and sought destinations for experienced whitewater boaters. The solitude of the Lochsa and Selway rivers create opportunities to loose track of time and drift into a space free from the trappings of modern life.
Rivers free of impoundments, that are clean and home to mystical salmon feel different to us. Rivers that have been heavily used with little consideration for their inherent value do not draw us. We seek places that are pure and free, to arouse and inspire our own distinct wildness.
If you know and love rivers within either the Salmon-Challis or the Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests, take some time to tell your own story about what these places mean to you and why you want to see them protected for your lifetime and generations to come.
Comment on forest plans to promote Wild and Scenic
Care about rivers? Want to help protect and preserve some of Idaho's best free-flowing rivers?
The Salmon-Challis of east-central Idaho is home to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, upper Salmon as well as numerous small streams in the Pioneer, Boulder, Lost River, Lemhi and Salmon River mountain ranges.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater of north Idaho boasts some incredible candidate streams like Kelly Creek, Cayuse Creek, the North Fork of the Clearwater and many other gems.