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 was already determined to be eligible or suitable. 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 (like this example authored by American Rivers on the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests), with guidance from agency and organizational partners on the ground. These reports require on-the-ground monitoring and research to assess eligibility, but are effective advocacy tools during land management plan revisions, or when justification may be required for designation. 
  • Power Mapping. Identify which Congressional member(s) will be the likely sponsor(s) of your wild and scenic legislation and engage their office(s) early. Congressional members 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 important in setting the stage for your bill sponsor. 
  • 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, and 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 community members to read and take home so they can be adequately educated on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) 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 community members to voice support, you must improve WSRA literacy throughout the watershed(s) in question. 
    • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the WSRA are helpful to create and share with the public. 
    • Maps of the river or river segment are a popular educational tool. 
    • Flyers or postcards that include key contact information, as well as the action you want community members 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, another entity, or a coalition, 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 directly to a captive audience. Integrating your campaign into existing community event that provide tabling opportunities in a less formal setting are also effective. 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 accounts, named for your campaign, are another useful way of reaching people and gathering support. 
    • Email newsletters with contacts databases are helpful in keeping your contacts organized and crafting emails to your grown list of interested community members. 
  • Public Opinion Polls. If your budget allows, commissioning a bi-partisan opinion poll can help assess how community members 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 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. 

  • Expanded Power Mapping. Identify 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 Congressional member know. 
  • Securing Widespread Support is Critical. Diversity within your supportive base is even more critical. Make sure that the community members who support your legislation aren’t just affluent, dominant-culture “river people,” but instead represent a variety of backgrounds, interests, employment types, and other identity characteristics. Bi-partisan support is often the key to success for 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 (LTE) and/or opinion pieces (Op Eds) written by key supporters or influential community members and 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. Some community members will be comfortable drafting their own letters; others may benefit from or need assistance from you. 
    • Video interviews with influential supporters are popular content for social media outlets and your website. 
    • Social media takeovers by influential supports raise the profile of your channels and attract new audiences. 
    • Advertising support through paid ads are another option if your budget allows. 
    • Encourage your supporters to call and email their Congressional members as well as influential opposers. Bombarding DC offices with phone calls from local community members makes a big impact. 


See our leading active campaigns page for campaigns that have legislation introduced and those that are still building community support.