Is the Biden administration delivering for rivers? In a story by staffer Matt Young, conservation group American Rivers addresses this in a look at what the Biden administration has accomplished for rivers and water in its first 100 days.
Among the report card, the group points out the recent increase in protection for the country’s Wild and Scenic Rivers
“The Wild and Scenic Rivers System is like a national park program for rivers,” Young writes. “It is meant to protect our most valuable remaining rivers against new dams and development, in perpetuity. President Biden’s America the Beautiful plan (30×30 initiative) will rely heavily on the current and future successes of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System when considering existing methods for conserving 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030. Congress has responded, and development of Wild and Scenic proposals is underway on rivers across the nation, with legislation to protect 6,700 river miles moving through the congressional process. Congress took its first action on public land legislation when the House passed the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (H.R. 803) on February 26th, 2021. There are currently many pieces of legislation supporting new designations of Wild and Scenic Rivers.”
Detailing the accomplishments, Young points out the following:
- Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) sponsored the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, which proposes adding Wild and Scenic designation for 336 miles of rivers of and creeks the Custer-Gallatin and Helena-Lewis and Clark national forests.This would be an 87% increase for the existing 388 miles of rivers and creek listed as Wild and Scenic thanks to the 3,000 Montanans and more than 1,000 Montana businesses supporting the cause.
- Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the River Democracy Act, which seeks to protect over 4,600 miles of rivers and streams in the McKenzie, the Deschutes, the Grande Ronde, the Rogue, Illinois and Nestucca river watersheds.
- Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) reintroduced the Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which would protect 464 river miles and more than 126,500 acres flowing out of Olympic National Park and the surrounding National Forest. The bill recently passed the House as part of the Protection America’s Wilderness Act and now heads to the Senate where Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will take it the last mile.
Young also points out a national initiative to prioritize and fund dam removals, in particular lauding Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) spearheading a $33 billion effort to restore the salmon of the Snake River — which American Rivers named America’s Most Endangered River of 2021 — giving Native American tribes a louder voice and draw investment for the region’s infrastructure. “The Columbia Basin Initiative has many provisions, but what stands out is the plan to remove four federally owned dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington to save salmon from extinction, while also honoring tribal treat rights and culture,” he writes. “Congressmen Blumenauer and Simpson plan to pitch the idea as a part of a Biden infrastructure package.”
“This is all progress — not perfection,” he continues. “Protecting our rivers is never easy and there are headwinds, even now. Still, the revitalized momentum and encouraging progress we are making with the Biden administration and environmentalists in Congress add up to the best opportunity in perhaps decades to unite behind protecting our lands and waters and preventing the worst of climate change.”
Read full report here