Skagit WSR - Overview


The Skagit Wild and Scenic River System, in northwest Washington state, was established by Congress in 1978 (Sec 703 of PL 95-625, 11/10/1978). The system includes 158.5 miles of the Skagit and its tributaries—the Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade rivers. Management of the Skagit Wild and Scenic River is consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act Section 10(a) direction to protect and enhance the values that caused the Skagit Wild and Scenic River to be included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System:

The Skagit Wild and Scenic River System flows through public and private lands. Fifty percent of the system is in private ownership, 44 percent is National Forest System land and 6 percent is owned by the State and other agencies.

The Skagit Wild and Scenic River is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

What is the  story behind the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act?

In the 1950s, decades of damming, development, and diversion had taken their toll on our nation’s rivers. By the 1960s, there was sufficient concern over the seemingly inexorable loss of free-flowing rivers that Congress decided to intervene. The result was passage of legislation to preserve forever in a free-flowing condition some of the nation’s most precious rivers. This legislation—the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act—was signed into law on October 2, 1968 as Public Law 90-542.

What makes a river wild and scenic?

To qualify, rivers or sections of rivers must be free-flowing and possess at least one “outstandingly remarkable value” (such as scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, historical, cultural, or other similar features). Congress or the Secretary of the Interior may add rivers to the growing national system.

Rivers in the National System are classified as wild, scenic or recreational, reflecting levels of development and natural conditions. Regardless of their formal classification, these rivers are generally referred to as “wild and scenic rivers.” Each river is administered to protect and enhance its free-flowing characteristics, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values. For information on the National Wild and Scenic River System visit the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council website.

“In a country where nature has been so lavish and where we have been so spendthrift of indigenous beauty,
to set aside a few rivers in the natural state should be considered an obligation.”
–Senator Frank Church


What does the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act do?

The Wild and Scenic Act balances demands for hydropower, flood control, and irrigation with the desire to protect some of our most outstanding rivers in a natural and free-flowing state.

The Act’s underlying principles are:

  • Keep designated rivers free-flowing.
  • Protect outstanding natural and cultural values.
  • Allow existing uses of rivers to continue where they do not conflict with river protection.
  • Build partnerships among landowners, river users, tribal nations, and all levels of government.

The Act may also:

  • Encourage basinwide management that crosses political boundaries.
  • Promote public participation in developing goals for river protection.
  • Offer technical assistance for river conservation.
  • Improve understanding of river values and processes.
  • Deepen the awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of river conservation.