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Senate Passes Huge River Protection Bill

Posted: 01/16/2009
By: Kevin Colburn

Yesterday the US Senate passed a bill that, if also passed by the House of Representatives as expected, will protect millions of acres of federal lands and designate dozens of rivers as Wild and Scenic.  The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22) is a collection of bipartisan and locally developed land and river protection bills that have been in the works for years.  Late last year we asked you to contact your senators in support of this bill and we would like to thank all of our members that rose to that challenge.  The bill is expected to pass quickly through the House of Representatives and may be ready for President Obama to sign on his first day in office.  


Paddlers wishing to do so are encouraged to reach out to your Representative and offer your support for the "Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009."     


The Omnibus bill will designate new Wilderness Areas in West Virginia, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Colorado. It would protect Wyoming’s Snake River headwaters, and the Bruneau, Jarbidge, and Owyhee rivers as a Wild and Scenic rivers.  It would expand the protected area around the Little River Canyon.  It would also protect many of BLM’s wildest places by formally creating the National Landscape Conservation System which includes 38 spectacular Wild and Scenic Rivers like the Rogue, Merced, Rio Grande, Deschutes, and others.

We would like to highlight a few of the epic river conservation opportunities that the Omnibus bill will secure:

West Virginia Wilderness Rivers

West Virginia is well known for both its world class whitewater and for some of the worst environmental impacts this side of China.  As paddlers know though, there are remnants of unspoiled West Virginia, and the Wild Monongahela Wilderness Act will protect some of these special places.  The Act will protect The Cranberry River Gorge, Williams River, Anthony Creek, Dry Fork of the Cheat, and Red Creek. 

Owyhee Canyonlands

Out in the deserts of Southeastern Idaho are some of the best multi-day canyon rivers on the continent.  The Bruneau, Jarbidge, Owyhee, and their tribs offer a lifetime of exploration on foot and by boat.  This spectacular and remote area of huge basalt slot canyons, sage brush, and golden eagles is finally getting the attention it deserves.  The Owyhee Public Land Management Act would designate 517,000 acres as Wilderness and over 316 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic.     

Snake River Headwaters

Jackson Hole Wyoming is famous for its skyline.  While the Tetons certainly deserve the reputation, the rivers and streams that run through the area are equally impressive.  The Snake Rivers Headwaters Act would designate many of the Snake’s headwaters in and around Jackson Hole as Wild and Scenic.  Several of these rivers and streams like the Hoback, Gros Ventre, and Upper Snake offer great whitewater runs with spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.   

Mt. Hood Wilderness

Mt. Hood rises above the Columbia Gorge forming the backdrop to the kayaking mecca of Hood River. Paddling opportunities abound on the rivers that flow from the slopes of Mt. Hood and the Mt. Hood Wilderness Act will protect these rivers in their free-flowing condition by making additions to the Wild and Scenic Rivers system that include the East Fork Hood, Collawash, Zig Zag, South Fork Clackamas, and others.

The BLM Conservation System


The National Landscape Conservation System, established by the BLM in 2000, encompasses 26 million acres of the best lands and waters in the west. The system includes classic multiday whitewater trips on rivers like the Rogue, Klamath, Owyhee, Crooked, Grande Ronde, Merced, Trinity, Tuolumne, Rio Grande, Fortymile and others. Congressional recognition of this system of lands and rivers is important for their long-term protection and management.

The Omnibus Bill must now be passed by the House of Representatives prior to becoming law.  In the coming week, you may wish to contact your Representative and let them know that you are a whitewater paddler that loves rivers, and share your feelings on the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.  The bill has not yet been formally introduced into the House, but its introduction and passage is expected very soon.  To learn more about the legislation, search for S 22 on


We would like to thank all the organizations and individuals that contributed to this effort!

Associated Projects

Conservation System

The National Landscape Conservation System represents the crown jewels of BLM lands and rivers.

Mt. Hood Wilderness (OR)

In 2009 new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers were established for the forests of Mt. Hood.

Snake Headwaters (WY)

American Whitewater joined a coalition of partners to designate the Snake Headwaters as Wild and Scenic.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!