Wild and Scenic Rivers

Water streaming through rocks to form whitewater rapids.

Impressive rapids in North Fork Kern River along the River Trail, Sequoia National Forest. Photo by SoCalHiker at summitpost.org

Appendix C of the draft EIS (released May 27, 2016) is devoted to the Wild and Scenic Rivers evaluation for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. The appendix contains detailed documentation, including maps, of the processes we used the results for the inventory, evaluation, eligibility findings and the preliminarily assigned classifications. The draft forest plans that are currently available for public review include management direction for eligible, suitable and existing designated wild and scenic rivers. Chapter 2 of the draft EIS includes an analysis of eligible and suitable rivers. For a quick update of our current progress, read our June 2016 update. From more detailed information on our process to date, visit the sections below.

If you have questions regarding the wild and scenic rivers evaluation process or how to comment on it, please contact Andrea Davidson at 707-562-8822.

Background

As part of revising the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests’ plans, the Forest Service is considering rivers to include into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) System. In 1968, Congress created the national WSR system to preserve free-flowing rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. Designations may be for a river segment or an entire river and may include tributaries. Both Congress and the Secretary of the Interior can designate wild and scenic rivers. Either federal or state agencies may manage designated rivers. In December 2015, we released an update on our progress, as well as maps and tables summarizing our findings for each forest. Please visit the December 2015 Update section to view these documents.

The 2012 Planning Rule requires the Forest Service to inventory, and determine WSR eligibility and classification during land management plan development or revision. The Rule also requires us to manage eligible and suitable rivers to protect their free flow, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values.

The Wild and Scenic River Study Process

There are four steps in the WSR process; three are required during plan revisions (inventory, eligibility, and classification) and one step (suitability) may happen during or after plan revision.

  • Step 1: Inventory: Develop a systematic and comprehensive inventory of rivers to consider for their potential eligibility.
  • Step 2: Eligibility: Determine stream eligibility for inclusion in the WSR system (must be free-flowing and have at least one outstandingly remarkable value such as scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, historic, or cultural).
  • Step 3: Classify: Based on the level of development of the shoreline, watercourse, and access at the time a river is found eligible, classify rivers as “wild,” “scenic,” or “recreational.”
  • Step 4 Suitability: Assess the eligible rivers’ potential for inclusion in the WSR system. Evaluate the potential physical, biological, economic, and social effects of adding the river to the national system. A suitability study provides the basis for determining which rivers to recommend to Congress as potential additions to the national WSR system.

What has the Forest Service completed?

Step 1 Inventory: We have completed an inventory of rivers to consider as eligible for WSR designation. The inventory includes all rivers that are named on U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture 7.5 minute quadrangle maps.

  • We reviewed other sources, including public and tribal comments that identified rivers with potential WSR eligibility to ensure that all rivers of interest were included in our inventory.
  • Previous WSR studies were also assessed for completeness. We used this information to identify which portions of the current inventory were previously assessed rivers and which were not. Of those previously assessed, we determined which rivers required further assessment based on either new information or changed conditions.

These maps show the comprehensive inventory of rivers that were identified for evaluation in step one in the WSR process.

Step 2 Eligibility and Step 3 Classification: Each river listed in the inventory has been evaluated for WSR eligibility and, if found eligible has been assigned a preliminary classification.

  • For previously studied rivers, we determined if there was new information or changed conditions that potentially affected the previous findings for eligibility and preliminary classification. If so, the eligibility and classification were updated.
  • For rivers not previously evaluated, we determined if they are free-flowing and have at least one river-related value (i.e. scenery, recreation, geology, fish and wildlife populations and habitat, prehistory, history, botany, paleontological, or hydrology), that may be of regional or national significance. If neither free-flow nor river-related values were found, then the river was determined to be ineligible.
  • If free flow and at least one potential river-related value were identified, then we systematically evaluated the river using criteria for "outstandingly remarkable values" (ORVs) and a region of comparison to determine what, if any, ORVs it has. Rivers that are free-flowing and have at least one ORV were found to be eligible for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. All eligible rivers were assigned a preliminary classification as "wild," "scenic," or "recreational" based on the existing level of development of the shoreline, watercourse and access at the time of river is found eligible.

These maps shows the results of step two, our eligibility evaluation, and of step three, classification. The table summarizes the results of the WSR evaluations, including classification and identified outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs) for those rivers and stream segments that were found, or reaffirmed, to be eligible.

The 2012 planning rule requires that forest plans must provide plan components for eligible and suitable rivers, including standards and guidelines, to provide for the interim management of rivers found eligible or determined suitable to protect the values that provide the basis for their suitability for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

What is next?

The inventory, evaluation, and classification process and findings have been complied into Appendix C of the draft EIS we developed for the forest plan revisions. Chapter 2 of the draft EIS also includes an analysis of eligible and suitable wild and scenic rivers. We released these documents for a 90-day public comment period beginning May 27, 2016 and ending August 25, 2016.

Between the draft and final EIS we will review all the comments we received since December 2015, including those comments we receive during the 90-day public comment period for the draft EIS and draft forest plans (ending August 25, 2016). We will then update the WSR Evaluation appendix, as appropriate, before we complete the final EIS. All rivers identified as eligible in the WSR appendix to the final EIS will be managed to protect their eligibility and their preliminary classification until such time as a suitability study or congressional action takes place.

At some point in the future, the Forest Service will make a suitability decision for each of the rivers determined to be eligible. This analysis and decision-making step will not be completed as part of the current forest plan revision process but will be completed in a separate future environmental analysis process.