Washington, DC – Today, American Rivers named the Allagash Wilderness Waterway as one of the nation’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2002, citing willful neglect from the Maine Department of Conservation and an effort in the legislature to strip away the river’s federal Wild and Scenic River designation. At a series of press conferences and other events today, American Rivers and dozens of environmental, outdoor recreation, and taxpayer groups announced its annual list of the nation’s most endangered rivers, placing the Allagash at the #8 spot on the list of 11.
“State and federal laws require that the Allagash be preserved in the wildest state possible,” said American Rivers President Rebecca R. Wodder. “If the Maine legislature votes to remove the Allagash from the Wild and Scenic Rivers system, the legal framework for protecting the nation’s most special rivers will be compromised.”
“Once considered the crown jewel of the nation’s Wild and Scenic River System, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway has been degraded by 30 years of poor management by the State,” said Cathy Johnson with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Multiple parking lots and motor vehicle access points threaten to diminish the priceless wilderness experience offered by the Allagash.”
“The state’s mismanagement of the Allagash reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of our wilderness heritage. The backcountry motor lobby should not be allowed to take the Allagash Wilderness Waterway hostage,” said Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director for RESTORE: The North Woods.
The Allagash is one of 17 rivers in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System administered by a state with oversight from a federal agency, and its designation as “wild” is reserved for rivers that are generally accessible only by trail, and “represent vestiges of primitive America.” The Maine Department of Conservation (DOC) has chafed at this mandate, and parking lots, boat ramps, and other structures have proliferated in this once pristine wilderness. After illegally replacing a dam on the river without proper consultation with its federal partners, the DOC must now repair the damage it has caused or allowed.
“Finally, the Maine Department of Conservation must heed the preponderance of public opinion and revise the deficiencies in its 1999 management plan,” said Dr. Dean Bennett, conservationist and author of books about the Allagash.
“The State needs to phase out some of the illegal motor vehicle access points and parking lots,” added Johnson.
“The recently signed agreement between the state and the National Park Service falls short of protecting the Allagash,” said Tim Caverly with Maine Public Employees for Environmental Protection. “It only covers a tenth of the river, allows an additional access point, and has the Department of Conservation regulating itself.”
In addition, a state legislator has responded to the controversy by introducing legislation in December 2001 to de-designate the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Should the bill become law, it would be the first time a river has ever been removed from the Wild and Scenic River System. Without federal oversight, the DOC would feel even less compelled to manage the Allagash as a wild river, and the river would soon lose its remaining wilderness character.
“Maine citizens have repeatedly shown overwhelming support for keeping the Allagash a nationally protected wild and scenic river,” said Karen Woodsum with the Maine Sierra Club, which commissioned a poll this year showing that 80 percent of the state’s residents support wilderness protection for the Allagash.
On the National Front: Reforms wanted at the Corps of Engineers
In a special chapter of this year’s Most Endangered Rivers report, American Rivers revealed a startling statistic: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has played a role in 60% of the river listings during the last 15 years. The group documented how the Corps has reconstructed America’s rivers in the name of flood control and transport of freight, and how the agency’s projects frequently do great damage to the environment, waste tax dollars, and fail to deliver promised economic benefits.
American Rivers called for sweeping legislative reforms to the agency, particularly independent review of the economic and environmental analyses the Corps submits to Congress to justify its projects. The group expressed optimism that a growing bipartisan consensus among lawmakers could give impetus to efforts to address this longstanding problem.
“With our rivers and their wildlife in continued decline and many worthwhile federal programs tightening their belts, it would be wrong to allow the Corps to continue business as usual,” Wodder said.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. Inspired by the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, the report highlights the rivers facing the most urgent and imminent threats. It is not a list of the nation’s most chronically polluted rivers. The report highlights alternatives and solutions, identifies those who will make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
Tim Caverly, Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (207) 723-4656, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Hubley, Allagash Alliance, (207) 590-0201, email@example.com
Jym St. Pierre, RESTORE: The North Woods, (207) 626-5635, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cathy Johnson, Natural Resources Council of Maine, (207) 622-3101, ext. 209, email@example.com
Karen Woodsum, Maine Sierra Club, (207) 791-2821, firstname.lastname@example.org
Drs Dean & Sheila Bennett, (207) 293-2761, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Warren Cochrane, Allagash guide, (207) 695-3668, email@example.com
Ashley Lodato, Hurricane Island Outward Bound, (207) 824-3152