The River Democracy Act

Chandra LeGue
The River Democracy Act is a historic opportunity to protect many of Oregon’s most treasured rivers. This proposed legislation would safeguard over 3,200 miles of waterways, from the big landscapes of Northeastern Oregon to the rugged Coast Range.

The bill was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and was crafted with input from hundreds of activists and river enthusiasts advocating for their backyard rivers, drinking watersheds, fishing holes, hiking trails, kayak routes, and love of the wildlands and rivers of Oregon. Over 15,000 river nominations were received from the public. 

Oregon Wild coordinates a statewide coalition working to pass the River Democracy Act through education, analysis, and direct advocacy.

  • Why is protecting Oregon’s rivers important?
    • Drinking water – Millions of Oregonians rely on the state’s rivers and watersheds for their drinking water. While some of the largest and most iconic rivers are already protected, the smaller rivers, streams, and watersheds that feed those rivers are vulnerable to development and commercial activities that will impact water quality and quantity downstream.
    • Climate change – A warming climate is changing Oregon’s landscape, leading to more extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and fires. Natural rivers, streams, and watersheds are more resilient to these events.
    • Recreation – Outdoor recreation is big business in Oregon, and rivers are no exception. Thousands of recreation jobs and millions of dollars are tied to the health of these waterways.
    • Wildlife – Wildlife rely on rivers as a source for water. In addition to providing critical habitat, protected river corridors allow wildlife to migrate up and down stream, connect larger blocks of quality habitat, and allow different genetic populations to intermingle.
    • Fish – Many fish species, especially salmon and steelhead, are sensitive to changes in water temperature, quality, and quantity. Dams, aggressive logging, and reckless development have all contributed to declines in fish species, making safeguards for existing rivers all the more important.
  • What would the bill do?

    Wild & Scenic River designations are the strongest form of protection for ecologically and culturally important streams, offering a number of important safeguards that will keep Oregon rivers healthy and free flowing.

    Destructive activities like mining and dam building are prohibited in and along Wild & Scenic Rivers, and other projects like commercial logging and road-building that negatively impact the landscape are tightly regulated so as to not degrade the river and river values. The River Democracy Act extends these safeguards a half-mile from each river bank, offering enhanced safeguards for critical waterways.

  • What rivers would be protected?

    The River Democracy Act would add safeguards to some of Oregon’s most spectacular rivers including the headwaters of the McKenzie, Metolius, Deschutes, Rogue, Clackamas, John Day, and Joseph Creek among many others across the state.

  • Who supports the River Democracy Act?

    Wild & Scenic Rivers designations, like those proposed by the River Democracy Act, are supported by:

Woman standing in river holding a fish
Taryn Sacchitella
A rushing river with trees in the background
Cheryl Hill

Key Staff

  • Erik FernandezWilderness Program Coordinator
  • Sami GodloveCentral Oregon Field Associate

Latest News

Join Our

Staying informed is the first step to becoming a public lands and native wildlife advocate.

Skip to content