Nehalem State Scenic River

Campaign Update: We did it! A 17-mile stretch of Oregon’s Nehalem River is now officially a state scenic waterway. Governor Kate Brown signed the designation in summer of 2019, after receiving messages of encouragement from hundreds of WSC supporters and thousands of Oregonians.

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation has proposed that a segment of the North Coast’s longest River, the Nehalem, be designated as a State Scenic Waterway. The State Scenic designation allows the state to reserve our natural waterways for their scenic, habitat and recreational values that Oregonians hold dear. The Nehalem River is an ideal candidate for the designation, with old native forests, stunning trails, scenic waterfalls, and prime habitat for fish and wildlife.

The Scenic Waterways program was passed by ballot measure in 1970 in response to dam construction, suction dredge mining, and increasing development pressures on Oregon’s iconic rivers. It allows the state to reserve our natural waterways for their scenic, habitat and recreation values. Unfortunately, after several rivers were initially designated, the program became largely dormant until 2016. Currently, only 22 river segments are designated as State Scenic Waterways in Oregon, which equates to less than 1% of the state’s rivers and streams. 

The proposed State Scenic Waterway designation of the Nehalem is a picturesque 17.5 mile-segment from Spruce Run Campground to the Cougar Valley State Park that meanders through public state lands. This section includes critical habitat for some of the best wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Pacific Northwest, as well as older forest that are important habitat for endangered marbled murrelets. Not only is this area great for fish and wildlife, it also provides amazing recreational opportunities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, and camping.

Unfortunately, the Oregon Department of Forestry has recently proposed a large timber sale which would clear-cut sections of the proposed Nehalem State Scenic Waterway. The department also aims to open approximately 750 net acres of older forest to clearcutting, as well as to aerial spray over 7,200 acres.

The older forests surrounding the Nehalem help maintain and promote healthy riparian areas with vegetation and cover that provides cold-water fish habitat and protects water quality. The large limbs in these older forests also provide some of the best and prime Marbled Murrelet habitat left in our state forests. Cutting these older forests would further harm the already endangered marbled murrelet.

If the Department of Forestry pursues the timber sale in the proposed Nehalem Scenic Waterway, it would not only be harmful to important salmon and marbled murrelet habitat, but also to the public who hike, fish, camp, and float the clear waters.

The designation includes a management plan, determined by input from an advisory committee, that would encourage wise use within a quarter-mile of the river’s bank. Our partners, Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited, are working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department on this advisory committee to develop a management plan for the potential Nehalem Scenic Waterway.

Get involved to protect Oregon’s Nehalem River and its forests by asking the Governor to support the designation of designate the Nehalem River as a State Scenic waterway through our partner, Wild Salmon Center.