The St. Croix River and its largest tributary, the Namekagon River, were among the first eight rivers designated by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. They were included with streams mostly in the Western United States, thanks to the
The law creating America’s Wild & Scenic Rivers passed the U.S. Senate without any “no” votes. In the House of Representatives, just seven legislators voted against it.
On October 2, 1968, it was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Safeguarding wild rivers had been in the works since the early 1960s, when special commissions were formed to study rivers around the country and nominate those that might be worthy of protection.
Senators Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and Walter Mondale of Minnesota were working on river legislation as early as 1964. That was also the year when the Wilderness Act became law, a major initiative that inspired the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
This same Congress made other significant strides, from creating the PBS and NPR networks to the landmark Civil Rights Act. The same day the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was signed, so was the National Trails Act, which setup a system of hiking trails across the country.
In 1965, Nelson, Mondale, and others introduced a bill that had some flaws and was never passed. But it led to the next version, which ultimately became law.
Below are excerpts from the debate and deliberations in the U.S. Senate in the summer of 1967.
CONGRESSIONAL RECORD – SENATE
August 8, 1967 (Download PDF, 40 MB)
Mr. BYRD of West Virginia. Mr. President, I move that the Senate proceed to the consideration of Calendar No. 476, S. 119.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The bill will be stated by title.
The LEGISLATIVE CLERK. A bill (S. 119) to reserve certain public lands for a National Wild Rivers System, to provide a procedure for adding additional public lands and other lands to the system, and for other purposes.
Mr. CHURCH (Senator Frank Church, Idaho). Mr. President, more than 100,000 miles of full-fledged rivers and major tributaries in the contiguous United States pour their waters down to the sea. Much of this streamflow has been harnessed for flood control, navigation, electric power, and reclamation. Along the bank lands we have erected our cities, established factories and located many of our homes-and in many ways we have mindlessly destroyed the beauty and purity of these streams. The affluent society has built well in terms of economic progress, but has neglected the protection of the very water we drink as ‘well as the values of fish and wildlife, scenic, and outdoor recreation resources. Although often measureless in commercial terms, these values must be preserved by a program that will guarantee America some semblance of her great heritage of beautiful rivers.
Fortunately, there are still some of these wonderful rivers which flow wild and free, or meander in purity and splendor, largely unsPoiled by man’s handiwork. From the sheer natural beauty of such rivers we draw that physical and spiritual refreshment found only where clean water moves majestically in its own nataral environment.
Mr. President, the preservation of certain of these unspoiled, unpolluted, freeflowing rivers is the objective of S. 119, the bill we are now considering. It would establish a national wild and scenic rivers system. Nine rivers or segments of them would be included in the initial system, and 27 other rivers or their segments would be studied for possible future inclusion. Procedure is provided for the addition of other rivers.
The bill has been referred to as an extension or corollary of the Wilderness Act, but its provisions are not nearly as restrictive. A national wild or scenic river area will be administered for its esthetic, scenic, historic, fish and wildlife, archeologic, scientific, and recreational features, based on the special attributes of the area. However, it will not prohibit the construction of roads or bridges, timber harvesting and livestock grazing, and other uses that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of these values. Mining will be allowed to continue, although claims located after the effective date of the act may be subject to regulation to conform to the system, particularly to prevent pollution.
It is the intention of the committee that both Secretaries shall encourage local units of government to adopt zoning ordinances which are consistent with the purposes of this act, and that where such valid zoning ordinances are in effect and where there is no need for further Federal acquisition, the appropriate Secretary will suspend acquisition of scenic easements and fee title.
We have an obligation to move now, while there is still time, to save these remarkable waterways. Once they are gone, they will be lost forever.
I commend S. 119 to the Senate as a method of husbanding, for this generation and those of the future, some of our most magnificent wild and scenic rivers before they vanish from the land.
Mr MONDALE. I thank the distinguished Senator for permitting me to engage in a short colloquy with the distinguished junior Senator from Wisconsin [Mr. NELSON], with respect to the provisions of the scenic Saint Croix bill, which is now incorporated as a part of this broader scenic rivers proposal.
The Senate Interior Committee limited the Power of the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior to acquire land by condemnation under this legislation. Could the Senator describe how that power is limited?
Mr. NELSON. Yes. We limited the boundaries of any scenic river area to not more than 320 acres per mile on both sides of the river, and within those boundaries restricted fed acquisition to only 100 acres per mile. In addition, on rivers where Federal ownership presently … exceeds 50 percent of river bank property, no additional acquisition by condemnation is permitted.
Mr. MONDALE. In allowing the Secretaries to acquire up to 100 acres per mile in fee title, was it the committee’s intention that they should in fact exercise that authorization to the fullest extent pcssible?
Mr. NELSON. No. As a matter of fact, the committee’s intention was just the opposite. We intended the Secretaries’ powers of condemnation to be used to protect scenic and wild rivers from commercial and industrial destruction, not for indiscriminate acquisition. The bill is not a land grab, and the condemnation power is primarily for acquisition of appropriate public access sites.
Mr. MONDALE: Even in areas where industrial or commercial development threatens the river, would the bill require that the Secretary in every case purchase the fee title to the land for protective purposes?
Mr. NELSON. No. We hope that the Secretaries will in every possible case use their power to acquire scenic easements instead of outright purchase. Not only will this be cheaper and less costly, but also, it will provide suitable proteetion for the scenic and recrerutional qualities of rivers without unduly disturbing existirig patterns of residential ownership.
Mr. MONDALE. I have special concern about the St. Croix River in this connection, as does the Senator from Wisconsin. Has the committee expressed its intent in this regard in the committee report in any way?
Mr. NELSON. Yes. The committee report states specifically that it is the committee’s intention that loeal units of government along scenic and wild rivers will be encouraged to adop.t suitable zoning ordinances which will protect the river’s qualities. Furthermore, and this is the most important protection, th’e committee report states at page 5:
For example, it is intended that in that section of the Saint Croix River described in section 3(b) (1) that acquisition will be limited to less than 1,000 acres to be used as access points and that the remainder of that segment will be primarily controlled by local zoning ordinances.
I believe this establishes the committee’s intention that the acquisition power of the Secretaries is to be used judiciously — primarily for public access and facilities. On the lower St. Croix River in particular, protection for the river should be accomplished by zoning and, if necessary, by the purchase of scenic easements.
Mr. MONDALE. I believe the answers to those questions have been most helpful.
It is my understanding that the Department of the Interior has developed a specific plan-for the development and use. within the provisions of this act, of the Lower St. Croix. Is my understanding correct?
Mr. NELSON. The Senator’s understanding is correct. As the Senator knows, as the coauthor of the St Croix scenic river bill, last year we went into the question of the development on the lower St. Croix, Taylor Falls, and St. Croix Falls. The provisions of this bill are intended to implement the intent of the bill that we passed the last time, that is, there wili be not more than 1,000 acres used for public access points, and that will involve not more than 6 points.
Mr. MONDALE. And those points have been rather well identified already on existing, maps and are known to the committee?
Mr. NELSON. That is correct.
Mr. MONDALE. Is it the intention of Congress to permit the acquisition of homes and cottages, beyond those points?
Mr. NELSON. No. The only acquisition of homes or property may be within the access points themselves; and, as the Senator from Minnesota has stated, the access points have been carefully delineated already. Even so, the property owner is entitled to maintain his cottage or his home for his lifetime or for 25 years, at his option.
Because of the Senator’s insistence on this point, the committee and its staff gave very detailed and thorough consideration to including several of the provisions of S. 368 in the overall bill now before us. But we were faced with the difficulty of drafting one bill of nationwide application to a number of rivers, and found that some of these provisions would not be helpful in rivers elsewhere in the United States. But I believe that the final version of the wild and scenic rivers bill takes care of the concerns the Senator has, even though these are not spelled out in as detailed a fashion as might be possible. But the committee was unable to do this, because we were working with a national bill. But it is not the committee’s intent to take any residences away from homeowners except in isolated cases of public access.
Mr. MONDALE. I am glad to have this clarified. One of the problems has been that in the last Congress we had a specific St. Croix scenic rivers bill; but now that it is part of a national program, it is not possible to have all the special problems, as we identified them, incorporated in particular terms. I believe this colloquy helps, so that the same intention exists with respect with development of the St. Croix as was embodied essentially in that measure, as we define them.
I express my profound appreciation for the leadership of the chairman of the subcommittee and the floor manager of this most important measure, and for the leadership of the Senator from Wisconsin [Mr. NELSON], who continues to be one of the great leaders of this country in conservation matters. I have found it most fulfilling and valuable to work with him on this proposal, and I believe it will be a wonderful day for the upper Midwest if the bil.l is passed.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Pursuant to the order previously entered, the time to vote on the bill has arrived.
The bill having been read the third time, the question is, Shall it pass? On this question, the yeas and nays have been ordered, and the clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk called the roll.
The result was announced-yeas: 84, nays 0.
So the bill (S. 119) was passed.