August 13, 2021

Wyden Will Hold Online Town Hall for Rural Oregon on River Democracy Act

Virtual town hall on Tuesday, Aug. 31 begins at 1 pm PT

Portland – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden today announced he will have a live on-line town hall hosted by People’s Town Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 31 beginning at 1 pm PT for rural Oregonians about his River Democracy Act – legislation that would designate about 4,700 miles of rivers and streams as wild-and-scenic as well as expand access to jobs-creating recreation statewide, reduce wildfire risks and protect existing property, grazing and irrigation rights.

The virtual town hall is the latest public outreach on the bill introduced by Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in February 2021. That public process began with three town halls in 2019 about public lands and river protections that prompted Wyden to ask Oregonians to send in their nominations of rivers and streams worthy of consideration under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. More than 2,500 Oregonians submitted about 15,000 nominations by January 2020.

Wyden also sought comments last year from county commissioners and updated them about how he worked to address their concerns before introducing the bill this year. In addition, Wyden staff has continued to meet individually with commissioners to refine and develop the list of protections. 

“From the first river-and-stream nominations more than a year-and-a-half ago to this virtual town hall, this legislation has been shaped at every step by the best of the Oregon Way, namely taking good ideas at the community level and working through a public process and ongoing conversations with all Oregonians to find common ground,“ Wyden said. “I very much look forward to throwing open the digital doors of democracy on Aug. 31 to hear from rural Oregon’s county commissioners, river enthusiasts, small business owners and more so the River Democracy Act continues on its path to provide clean drinking water for families, build an even stronger outdoor recreation economy in every nook and cranny of our state, and improve wildfire resiliency.”

Wyden has held 970 in-person town halls statewide in fulfillment of his pledge to hold at least one town hall each year in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. Wyden has postponed in-person town halls until there are clear-cut public health guidelines that a large open-to-all public meeting poses no unusual health risk for Oregonians. After the pandemic in March 2020 required Wyden’s town halls to go virtual, he has continued to hold regional and county virtual town halls.

The link to watch this virtual town hall on Aug. 31 about the River Democracy Act is here. The link for rural Oregonians who want to submit questions for Wyden about the legislation is here.

 "It's no surprise to see one of the most prolific town hall holders in Congress pioneer an exciting new way to bring his constituents into shaping legislation," said Nathan Williams of People's Town Hall, a virtual town hall series from the founders of Town Hall Project. "We're thrilled to host this important conversation and invite Oregonians from across the state -- regardless of party or background -- to join us." 

The River Democracy Act builds on legislation Congress passed in 2019 that added more than 250 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers in Oregon. The state now has 2,173 miles designated in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system, but that total remains only a small fraction of Oregon’s 110,994 miles of rivers and streams.

The River Democracy Act would achieve the following:

  • Designate nearly 4,700 miles of rivers in all corners of Oregon as “Wild and Scenic Rivers” to expand recreation access and boost local economies, protect drinking water for families, reduce wildfire threats, and sustain endangered fish and wildlife species;
  • Require federal land managers to assess wildfire risks in Wild and Scenic River corridors, implement a plan to reduce wildfire risks to homes and businesses near Wild and Scenic Rivers, assist local governments mitigate wildfire risks and restore water quality should a fire strike near a Wild and Scenic River;
  • Encourage federal land managers to develop river management plans in collaboration with Native American tribes and ensures Native American tribes have a voice in how rivers are managed; and 
  • Ensure that only federal lands are affected by Wild and Scenic designations, while protecting private property rights, water rights and existing permits and rights of way on federal lands. 

A one-page summary of the River Democracy Act is here.

A section-by-section summary of the legislation is here.

Legislative text is here.

A map of proposed rivers is here.