Extending Wild and Scenic River Status on the White Salmon River (WA)

Posted: 08/13/2002
by Thomas O'Keefe

American Whitewater has joined American Rivers, Friends of the White Salmon and several additional groups in support of extending Wild and Scenic status to the Upper White Salmon River located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State.

Background (adapted from information compiled by American Rivers)

Congress designated the Lower White Salmon River as a Scenic River through the Columbia River Gorge Act of 1986 (this section includes the BZ whitewater run). Congress also directed the Forest Service to study the Upper White Salmon for possible designation into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and in 1997 the Forest Service recommended to Congress that this designation be expanded to the Upper White Salmon River. The Forest Service's recommendation was based on an eligibility study that was documented in a legislative environmental impact statement. There was extensive public involvement in the process, headed by a study Task Force composed of a wide range of stakeholders.

The study determined that the Upper White Salmon River and its tributary, Cascade Creek, are eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System based on their free-flowing condition and outstandingly remarkable scenic, hydrologic, geologic, wildlife, and whitewater boating values. The Forest Service recommended a 38.4 mile segment for designation, 6.7 of which would be classified as wild (the segment within the Mt. Adams Wilderness) and the remaining 31.7 miles as scenic. Most of the 38.4 mile stretch is within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and thus owned by the Forest Service (this includes the less frequently paddled Mt. Adams whitewater run). The remaining segment (18.4 miles) is a mixture of privately-owned lands, of which SDS Lumber Company owns approximately 1/3 of the shoreline (SDS is the largest private landowner along that segment), and it includes the popular Farmlands and Green Truss whitewater runs.

After the Forest Service's recommendations were presented to Congress in 1997, Senator Slade Gorton began to work on legislation to designate the entire 38.4-mile section. SDS Lumber Company had concerns about the effect the designation would have on its private timber lands within the corridor of the wild and scenic river. After several months of effort, it proved to be too difficult to work out legislative language for a designation bill that included the private lands section and that would satisfy both SDS and environmental interests--although this still remains the long-term goal.

Friends of the White Salmon River and American Rivers began to talk with Congressman Brian Baird earlier this year about introducing a bill to designate just the National Forest section of the Upper White Salmon River. SDS Lumber Co. has expressed to Congressman Baird as well as Conressman Hastings that it can support designation of the 20-mile Forest Service section.

What would the designation do?

Designation would preserve the river's free-flowing nature, its hydrologic and geologic features, the rural life-style around it, and its natural resource-based economy. It would help maintain the character of the river as it appears today. While the Forest Service management plan currently provides a high level of protection, this protection is at the administrative level and is therefore susceptible to change. A Wild and Scenic designation would grant permanent federal protection to this stretch of the river. Wild and Scenic river status would also protect the river channel from future construction of dams.

The Forest Service's current management plan treats this area as if it were a Wild and Scenic river, so there are no planned timber sales or other activities that would be prevented by the designation. Therefore, there are no known adverse economic impacts associated with the designation. In fact, the Wild and Scenic designation may bring economic benefits to the region. The White Salmon River is renowned for its outstanding whitewater boating and scenic beauty. The area's economy increasingly is linked to recreation, with about 12,000 whitewater boaters visiting the river each year. A Wild and Scenic designation could enhance local tourism and increase local property values.

Current Status

Congressman Brian Baird has recently introduced legislation to designate approximately 20 miles of the Upper White Salmon River in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System. The river is located in South-Central Washington in Baird's district. We are hopeful that Senator Cantwell will introduce a companion bill in the Senate. Strong constituent support is required if we want to see serious action on this legislation. Letters that communicate your personal interest in the White Salmon and the Wild and Scenic River program would be very helpful in making this happen.

If passed, the White Salmon River would be the first wild and scenic river to be designated in the state of Washington since 1986. (There are currently three other wild and scenic rivers in the state: the Lower White Salmon River, the Klickitat River, and the Skagit River). Washington has relatively few miles of designated Wild and Scenic river considering the number and quality of river resources in the state.

This designation is non-controversial. It includes only public lands within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and is supported by the Forest Service, local communities, businesses, and environmental groups. Nine miles of the lower White Salmon River are already designated as a wild and scenic river.

The long-term goal remains designation of the entire 38.4 section, and the currently proposed legislation affecting the section located within Forest Service lands does not preclude future opportunities for including the downstream section that flows through private land. The removal of Condit Dam and protection of the river corridor through Wild and Scenic designation will restore and preserve this incredible resource for future generations.

Additional supporters

Other groups who have signed on in support of Wild and Scenic River status for the Upper White Salmon River include the following: