Congress Passes River Conservation Bills

Posted: 12/13/2014
By: Kevin Colburn

In the final days of the 113th Congress public lands bills were attached to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 113-291). The legislation designated significant new Wilderness Areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers in areas vitally important to the paddling community. American Whitewater has played a leadership role in several of the bills that represent important conservation measures for rivers. Also attached are several development-oriented bills that are likely to have negative environmental impacts. While the package of bills had its issues, it provides significant benefits to rivers and streams that American Whitewater has prioritized for conservation on behalf of the paddling community. Below are a few highlights from the bills that protect rivers of greatest interest to whitewater paddlers. 

Montana: The bill provides much needed scenery and water quality protections for the Wild and Scenic North Fork Flathead River and Glacier National Park, by withdrawing over 400,000 acres from potential mining.  The North Fork offers superb family-friendly paddling opportunities for thousands of people each year. It creates 67,000 acres of new Wilderness and a 208,000 acre Conservation Management Area along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, protecting paddling gems like the Dearborn and Teton rivers. American Whitewater has formally and actively supported these initiatives for several years. Check out a video highlighting the Devil’s Glen section of the Dearborn that will now be protected by this bill.  
Vermont: The Missisquoi and Trout Rivers contain a number of whitewater paddling opportunities including a section of the Missisquoi from Troy to North Troy and a section of the Trout upstream of VT Route 118. Located in a remote section in northern Vermont along the Canadian border, these are the first rivers designated for protection in Vermont under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The designated river segments are among the most scenic in Vermont, including the largest undammed waterfall in the state.
Washington: The Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers have been designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers as part of the section of the bill that also includes 22,000 acres of additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. These wild free-flowing rivers and the adjoining forest are less than an hour drive from downtown Seattle and accessible to a population of over three million people. In addition, Illabot Creek will be added to the Skagit Wild and Scenic River system. With our colleagues in the conservation community, we have served in a leadership capacity to protect these rivers for several years.
Colorado: The Hermosa Creek Watershed, north of Durango, offers some of the best hiking, biking, and fishing in the area, along with special whitewater paddling opportunities. The bill created the 70,650 acre Hermosa Creek Special Management Area which will remain open to all existing uses, and set aside nearly 38,000 acres as new Wilderness where roads and mineral development will not be permitted. These designations were created by years of community collaboration that involved water users, ranchers, business leaders, outfitters, recreation interests, conservationists and community officials.
We would like to thank the countless people that worked for many years to build support for these initiatives. Each of the initiatives that we highlighted are based on a groundswell of public support, fostered by dedicated conservation leaders, and championed by legislators that listened to their constituents and took action. It is now time to celebrate the protection of some very special places, and the rivers that flow through them.

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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Associated Rivers

Flathead, North Fork MT
Illabot Creek WA
Snoqualmie, Middle Fork WA
Snoqualmie, Middle Fork WA
Teton River, North Fork MT

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Middle Fork Snoqualmie (WA)

AW has been working on resource stewardship along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie in Washington and protecting this drainage for the incredible recreational opportunities it provides.

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