Wild and Scenic Rivers

An administrative designation created under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 applied to preserve certain free-flowing rivers which “possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values.”

Related resource topics for county planning include the following:




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Resource Information

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of 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 [1] [2].

Wild and Scenic designation protects outstanding rivers under three categories [3] [4]:

  • Wild rivers represent “vestiges of primitive America” in that they are free-flowing segments of rivers with undeveloped shorelines that typically can only be accessed via trail.
  • Scenic rivers are dam-free river segments with undeveloped shorelines but accessible in places by roads.
  • Recreational rivers are more developed than Wild or Scenic river segments and can be accessed by roads.

There are no designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the MAG region, though the USFS has determined several river segments are suitable for designation (see table below) [5] [6] [7]. The BLM has not identified any suitable rivers for inclusion to the National Wild and Scenic River System [8].

Proposed Wild and Scenic Rivers in the MAG Region based on Revised Forest Plans.
National ForestRiver SegmentMilesCountySuitable Classification
Manti-La SalFish Creek8.0 (3.3 in Utah County)UtahScenic
Wasatch-CacheOstler Fork (source to mouth)3.7SummitWild
Wasatch-CacheStillwater Fork (source to mouth)13.9SummitWild/Scenic
UintaLittle Provo Deer Creek1WasatchRecreational

Best Management Practices

Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated by Congress or the US Secretary of the Interior. To be eligible for designation, a river must be free-flowing and contain at least one “outstandingly remarkable” value (scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar value). For this purpose, free-flowing is defined as a river section that is flowing in a natural condition without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip-rapping, or other modification of the waterway. Under this definition, a segment of a river that has been dammed upstream can still be considered for the designation. In addition, existing minor dams or diversion structures within the area do not necessarily render a river segment ineligible. Designated river segments require sound protective management based on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. The BLM offers an online manual with best practices for the management of wild, scenic, and recreational rivers [4].  

Economic Considerations

The economic implications of Wild and Scenic River designation are not completely understood [9]. Considerations include the tradeoff between increases in recreation and tourism and the potential economic loss of future river development. An analysis of Wild and Scenic River designation done by Utah State University, made the following observations:

  • Primary impacts of designation relate to a reduction in the grazing in riparian areas due to the associated reduction in water quality.
  • Other impacts include those affecting public and private land uses.

Impact Considerations

Designated rivers are typically managed by federal agencies, but can also be managed by partnerships of adjacent communities, state governments and the National Park Service allowing communities to protect their own outstanding rivers and river-related resources [10].

Several factors may be considered when evaluating the water rights in a proposed Wild and Scenic River. One consideration is the type of designation of the river (wild, scenic, or recreational). The amount of water needed to protect the values of each section may vary depending upon the type of designation and its placement in the watershed. For example, water usage would presumably be most restricted if the river were designated as wild, while a recreational river would have the fewest restrictions of the three types [11].

The consistency of the Wild and Scenic River designation with other organization plans should be evaluated.  River designation may help or limit efforts. For example, designation may help with protection goals while limiting engineered flood control or irrigation measures. Sometime allowing flooding upstream reduces floods downstream and better than a channelized stream. For more information or questions regarding Wild and Scenic River see the Compendium of Questions & Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers [12].

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
Bureau of Land Management Suitable Wild and Scenic River Segments, Utah 2012
Suitable River Segments for Wild and Scenic Designation2012DocumentBureau of Land Management in Utah
Land Ownership
Surface Land Ownership; use Admin field to identify administrative agencyUpdated Weekly1:24,000State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
GIS Group
National Wild and Scenic River System
River segments from USFS, BLM, FWS, and NPS20091:24,000National Atlas of the United States


  1. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. n.d. About the WSR Act. Accessed: 1/21/16.
  2. U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 2015. Wild And Scenic Rivers. Accessed: 1/21/16.
  3. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. n.d. A National System. Accessed: 2/3/16.
  4. U. S. Bureau of Land Management. 2012. Wild and Scenic Rivers – Policy and Program Direction for Identification, Evaluation, Planning, and Management.
  5. U.S. Forest Service, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. 2008. Uinta National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, Amendment # 2.
  6. U.S. Forest Service, Wasatch-Cache National Forest. 2008.Revised Forest Plan for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Amendment # 5.
  7. U.S. Forest Service, Manti-La Sal National Forest. 2003. Final Eligibility Determination of Wild & Scenic Rivers.
  8. U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. List of Suitable River Segments, Utah 2012.  
  9. Keith et.al. 2008. Impacts of Wild and Scenic River Designation, A Report for the Utah Governor’s Public Land Office. Utah State University.
  10. US Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 2010. Partnership Wild & Scenic Rivers. Accessed: 2/3/16.
  11. Brougher, C. 2009. Wild And Scenic River Act and Federal Water Rights. Congressional Research Service.
  12. Marsh, G. 2014. A Compendium of Questions and Answers Relating to Wild & Scenic Rivers. A Technical Report of the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council.