Launching a Wild & Scenic River Designation Campaign


If you are just starting a wild and scenic river campaign, the first step is to gather as much existing information as possible about the river or rivers you hope to see designated. This means researching existing data, highlighting any gaps in data and then collecting additional or ground truthing the existing data. These are a few great places where you can start: 

  • National River Inventory (NRI). The NRI is housed by the National Park Service and catalogues more than 3,200 free-flowing river segments in the United States that are believed to possess one or more “outstandingly remarkable” natural or cultural values. These “NRI river segments” are considered to be potential candidates for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System as determined by the NPS.
  • National Forest Service Land Management Plans. If the river you wish to see designated flows across National Forest Land, then National Forest Service Land Management Plans are another helpful resource in gathering information about the river(s). Every 10-20 years, each National Forest must undergo management plan revisions and evaluate not only existing land resources, but the rivers that flow through those lands. One component of the plan is assessing the Wild and Scenic eligibility of the rivers in that specific forest. You can reference any existing management plan for any National Forest to see if the river you are hoping to see designated is already determined to be eligible or suitable for Wild and Scenic designation by the Forest Service. This is helpful, as the outstanding remarkable values are typically identified through this process.
  • Partnership Wild and Scenic River Toolkit. If your river flows primarily or largely through private lands, the Partnership designation model may be right for you. River Management Society has an extensive Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Toolkit that helps you through the steps from explore to study to designate. 
  • River Eligibility Reports. Some organizations create their own river eligibility reports, with guidance from agency and organizational partners on the ground. These reports require on the ground monitoring and research to assess eligibility. They take a lot of work, but are effective advocacy tools for when agencies are going through management plan revisions, or when justification may be required for designation. 
  • Power mapping. Identify who at the federal level will be the likely sponsor of your wild and scenic legislation and engage them early. He/she will need to guide you on your outreach targets, and identify whose support locally will be necessary to acquire for bill introduction and passage. The same can apply to any potential opposition. Early identification of those who will oppose wild and scenic legislation is very helpful in setting the stage for your bill sponsor. No one likes to be blind sided. 
  • Lay of the land. Closely related to power mapping, getting a lay of the land (the populations in the watershed, land ownership along the river, land and water use, etc.) is critical to informing your outreach and communications strategy. You must know your audience and be comfortable communicating with them. This means conducting outreach to those who you anticipate will be supporters and those that you anticipate will not. Identifying the potential questions, concerns as well as the benefits ahead of your outreach is critical. 


  • Outreach Materials. Before you spread the word about your wild and scenic campaign, you will want to make sure you have plenty of useful information for folks to read and take home so they can be adequately educated on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and what it means for the river in question. Many people are not familiar with what the WSRA does and doesn’t do. In order to rally support and encourage folks to vocalize support, you must improve WSRA literacy among that support base and throughout the watershed(s) in question. 
    • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the WSRA, what it does and doesn’t do, are helpful to create and share with the public. 
    • Maps of the river or river segment are popular as folks like to orient themselves to the area of interest. 
    • Flyers or postcards that include key contact information, as well as the action you want folks to take can serve as a quick take away and reminder of where people can go for more information. 
  • Outreach Events. Whether hosted by your organization or another entity, public engagement events are opportunities to share information about your campaign. The type of event should be relevant to the community you are trying to reach. This might be in the form of a public meeting, forum or roundtable where information is shared and gathered directly to a captive audience, or perhaps a community event where various organizations set up tables to share information in a less formal setting. In whatever form you choose, these events are opportunities to answer questions, gather intel on potential support and/or opposition and the political appetite that may exist in your key geography. 
  • Create an online communications strategy. 
    • A website dedicated to your campaign is an effective tool for directing folks to more information as well as a place for collecting their contact information and endorsements for the campaign. 
    • Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, in the name of your campaign are other useful means for reaching people and gathering support. 
    • Email newsletters and databases through services like Mail Chimp are helpful in keeping your contacts organized and crafting emails for your followers. 
  • Public Opinion Polls. If your budget allows, commissioning a bi-partisan opinion poll is a great way to feel out how folks in your region or state feel about Wild and Scenic river designation in general or about a river in particular. Questions should be crafted carefully and vetted with your potential bill sponsor, as in many cases, favorable results will provide political cover for him or her to introduce legislation. 


Outreach to and education of the masses is only half the work. You must also cultivate a network of vocal supporters who will speak out about the campaign and help gather even more support. 

  • Remember the power mapping? Identify the key supporters who will be most advantageous to your bill sponsor, as well as influential thought leaders in your key communities. If your elected leader is endorsed by certain members of the business community or a certain industry, make sure those entities have supported your campaign and are willing to call and let your Senator or Representative know. 
  • Securing wide spread support is critical. Diversity among that support base is even more critical. Make sure that the folks who support your legislation aren’t just “river people,” but folks that come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Bi-partisan support is often the key to success for these campaigns, so having support across the political spectrum in your geography is critical.  
  • Ways to Vocalize. This can apply to the key supporters as well as the masses.
    • Letters to the Editor and/or opinion pieces from a variety of folks and backgrounds expressing support for your wild and scenic campaign are extremely helpful. Oftentimes, our elected leaders are given the latest LTE’s and Op Eds from their local papers, so there is a good chance they will read these. 
    • Video interviews with influential supporters are popular content for social media outlets and your website. 
    • Social media takeovers by influential supports are a helpful way to connect to more people. 
    • Advertising support through paid ads are another option if your budget allows. 
    • Encourage your supporters to call and email their delegation members, potential bill sponsors and anyone who may stand in the way to introduction and passage. Bombarding those DC offices with phone calls from local folks makes a big impact.