Skagit WSR - FAQ's about National Wild and Scenic River Systems


Q: What is the purpose of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) and of adding rivers to the National System?

A: The WSRA establishes a national policy and program to preserve and protect selected rivers, or segments of rivers, in their free-flowing condition.

The Skagit Wild and Scenic River System (Skagit System) was added to the National System by Public Law 95-625 on November 10, 1978.

Q: What are the qualifications for, and how are, rivers added to the National System?

A: To be designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, rivers or segments of river must be free-flowing and possess at least one “outstandingly remarkable” value—such as scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar features. Congress or the Secretary of the Interior may add rivers to the National System.

The Skagit System’s exceptional fisheries, wildlife, and scenic resources are the outstandingly remarkable values for which the river was designated, along with its free-flowing condition and high water quality.

Q: How are designated wild and scenic rivers (WSR) managed?

A: WSRs are managed to protect and enhance their free-flowing condition, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs). This nondegradation and enhancement policy allows existing uses to continue on federal lands where they do not conflict with river protection. Through development of a management plan and in ongoing management, the river-administering agency works with its partners to identify and resolve any activities adversely affecting river values on federal and nonfederal lands.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service, has the responsibility to manage the Skagit System, including regulation of surface waters for recreational activities. Although the Forest Service manages the river system and has management authority on National Forest System lands, stewardship is a shared responsibility because the Skagit Wild and Scenic River System flows through both public and private lands. Many different people—from private landowners to members of federal, State, county, and private organizations—interact with one another in decision-making, working together to protect this special place.

The River Management Plan: Skagit River was completed for the Skagit System in 1983.

Q: What are the general effects of WSR designation?

A: WSR designation helps to protect and enhance a river’s current natural condition and provide for public use consistent with retaining those values. Designation affords certain legal protection from adverse development; for example, no new dams can be constructed and no federally assisted water resource developments can be allowed if they would adversely affect designated river values. Where private lands are involved, the river-administering agency works with local governments and landowners to develop protective measures.

Q: What does a river’s classification mean?

A: Rivers added to the National System by Congress are classified in one of three classes depending on the extent of development and accessibility along each segment:


  • The Skagit River segment of the Skagit System is designated as recreational.


  • The Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade River segments of the Skagit System are designated as scenic.


  • There are no wild segments in the Skagit System.

In addition to describing the type and intensity of development in existence at the date of the river’s designation, classification serves as a framework for future in-corridor land uses on federal lands, and as a guide in working with state and local governments, and landowners on nonfederal lands.

A river’s classification does not represent the values for which it was added to the National System. For example, a “recreational” river does not necessarily mean recreation is an ORV or that this segment of the river will be managed for recreational activities. The direction in the WSRA to protect and enhance the river’s values (free-flow, water quality and ORVs) applies equally to each of the three classifications.

Q: How many rivers and miles of river are included in the National System?   …in the Skagit?

A: As of November 2004, there are 163 rivers and 11,338 miles in the National System.

The Skagit Wild and Scenic River System includes 158.5 miles of the Skagit River and its tributaries—the Sauk, Suiattle, and Cascade rivers. View maps of these rivers.