Wild and Scenic Rivers


The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1271-1287) provides federal protection for certain free-flowing, wild, scenic, and recreational rivers designated as components or potential components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (NWSRS). The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (NWSRS) was created by Congress in 1968 (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq., as amended) to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.

Each river or river segment in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System is administered with the goal of protecting and enhancing the values that caused it to be eligible for inclusion in the system. Designated rivers need not include the entire river and may include tributaries.

Four primary federal agencies are charged with protection and managing our wild and scenic rivers: the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Each river segment is administered by generally one of these federal agencies and/or a state agency and, in some cases, a tribe or in coordination with local government. Boundaries for protected rivers generally extend one-quarter mile from either bank in the lower 48 states and one-half mile on rivers outside national parks in Alaska in order to protect river-related values.

HUD-assisted activities are subject to the requirements of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.). The environmental review must evaluate the potential to impact any listed Wild and Scenic River when the assisted project is within proximity to a listed natural resource (24 CFR 58.5(f) or 24 CFR 50.4(f)).

HUD Guidance

Is your project within proximity of a NWSRS river as defined below?

Wild and Scenic Rivers. These rivers or river segments have been designated by Congress or by states (with the concurrence of the Secretary of the Interior) as wild, scenic or recreational.

Study Rivers. These rivers or river segments are being studied as a potential component of the Wild & Scenic River system.

Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI). The National Park Service has compiled and maintains the NRI, a register of river segments that potentially qualify as national wild, scenic or recreational river areas.

If so, is your project a water resources project? A water resources project is a federally assisted project that could affect the free-flowing condition of a wild and scenic river. Examples include dams, water diversion projects, bridges, roadway construction or reconstruction, boat ramps, and activities that require a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

If so, could the project do any of the following?

  • Have a direct and adverse effect within wild and scenic river boundaries
  • Invade the area or unreasonably diminish the river outside wild and scenic river boundaries
  • Have an adverse effect on the natural, cultural, and/or recreational values of an NRI segment

Consultation with the appropriate federal, state, local, and/or tribal Managing Agency is required, pursuant to Section 7 of the Act, to determine if the proposed project may have an adverse effect on a wild and scenic river or a study river and, if so, to determine the appropriate avoidance or mitigation measures. The Managing Agency for a particular river segment generally is the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; for some river segments, a state agency, tribe, or a local government may also be a Managing Agency. For rivers listed in the NRI, the National Park Service (NPS) is the point of contact. Under Section 5 of the Act, the NPS can provide recommendations that the Responsible Entity must take into account in protecting the listed river segment.

Compliance and Documentation

The environmental review record should contain one of the following:

  • Evidence the proposed action is not within proximity to a designated Wild, Scenic, or Recreational River
  • Documentation that contact was made with the Federal (or state) agency that has administrative responsibility for management of the river and that the proposed action will not affect river designation or is not inconsistent with the management and land use plan for the designated river area

View Wild and Scenic Rivers - Worksheet.

View Wild and Scenic Rivers - Partner Worksheet.

Related Resources

  • Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: Section 7
    A technical report that includes appendices on how to document evaluation of impacts in the environmental review.
  • Protecting Our Natural Resources Webinar
    This webinar, held September 5, 2012, provides an overview of three laws concerning the protection of natural resources: the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Farmland Protection Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act. This webinar outlines the compliance steps in a way that has been tailored towards HUD projects for all three laws.