It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.
— Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, Oct. 2, 1968
Many people agree that the Neches River is wild. Many agree that it’s scenic, too, especially at certain parts of the year. The disagreement that has arisen, however, is whether we should encourage or discourage the federal government from labeling it as such.
That process is a long one. First a federal agency (most likely the National Park Service) would have to conduct a study to determine whether it qualifies, ecologically, as a Wild and/or Scenic river. If so, the agency would recommend that designation to Congress, which would have to vote on it. Were the Neches River to become Wild and Scenic, it would be protected from damming or channelization.
Alaska, California, Idaho, Michigan and Oregon each have more than a dozen Wild and Scenic rivers. Texas has one — the Rio Grande. Obviously, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, created by Congress in 1968, has not caught on in our state.
Several East Texas conservationists, including Lufkin’s Richard Donovan and Ellen Temple, have been pushing for a 415-mile stretch of the Neches River to be designated as Wild and Scenic. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), however, has expressed concern about the restrictions of Wild and Scenic rivers and has told us the designation would drain tax revenue from local governments and schools. On the contrary, conservationists have said, the designation would protect riverside landowners by preventing reservoirs from being built on the river.
The waters got really muddied this week when the Texas Forestry Association and Texas Farm Bureau both announced their opposition to the proposed designation. Ron Hufford, executive vice president of the forestry group, said the designation “would have devastating effects on the forest industry and surrounding communities.”
Who’s right? We’re not sure, but it seems obvious to us that the conversation needs to continue in public. Donovan, a longtime Neches River supporter, said he hopes to bring in National Wild and Scenic River officials to talk about what, exactly, would happen if our river becomes protected by federal law. That’s a good idea, but we also encourage Gohmert to conduct a public hearing on the issue. As it stands now, he sits squarely on the fence on this issue. A good helping of public comment might convince him to introduce the legislation to begin the process that would decide whether the river even qualifies.