'Best of the Best' Oregon Rivers identified
September 2, 2021 | View PDF
A new report identifies some of the most ecologically important rivers in Oregon (including the South Fork McKenzie).
Conservation Science Partners looked at 54,000 miles of unprotected rivers and streams in Oregon, highlighting watersheds with outstanding water quality, recreational value and that support rare or at-risk species.
More than 5,700 river miles were in the range of at least 30 aquatic Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Caitlin Littlefield, lead scientist for Conservation Science Partners, said many rivers are under threat as the climate warms and a growing population places more demands on fresh water sources.
“Despite that importance and those threats, though, there are very few rivers and streams that are currently protected from those increasing threats,” Littlefield explained. “And so, this report strives to identify the ‘best of the best river’ segments and key places to conserve across Oregon.”
The report, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, analyzes rivers for their potential for state Outstanding National Resource Water or state Wild and Scenic River designation. Only about 2% of Oregon rivers have the highest federal protections as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced the River Democracy Act earlier this year, which would give nearly 4,700 miles of Oregon rivers Wild and Scenic protections.
Michael LaLonde, president and CEO of Deschutes Brewery, said clean rivers are meaningful not only because they provide water for his brewery, but also to the residents of central Oregon.
“Most of us moved here to be outdoors, to do outdoor recreation, whether it’s fishing, kayaking,” LaLonde outlined. “And maintaining a healthy river system is important to those activities and, really, the attraction of central Oregon for visitors.”
Outdoor recreation is a $7.2 billion industry in Oregon, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
Littlefield noted researchers also looked at how well rivers are able to maintain cool summer temperatures, which is critical as temperatures rise. She stressed for their size, rivers have an outsized number of benefits.
“We cannot overestimate the importance of our freshwater systems to supporting not only us as humans but also biodiversity, and affording some degree of climate adaptation into the future, if we think about maintaining these services,” Littlefield concluded.