Stretching from the High Sierra to the Mojave Desert, California's rivers are of critical biological importance, forging major wildlife corridors and linking several ecological regions. These waterways and the riparian habitat they provide are home to dozens of endangered species.

But California's rivers are also some of the most developed in the nation, collectively affected by more than 1,400 dams and thousands of miles of channels used for power generation, flood control, agriculture, and urban water supplies. Along with riverside deforestation and development, dams and diversions adversely impact water quality and destroy species' habitat. This makes the state's free-flowing rivers all the more important to preserve.

Thankfully, within California are dozens of federally protected wild and scenic rivers, and the Center is working to ensure that these rivers are fully protected from destructive activities. In 2001 we won a lawsuit halting cattle grazing in the corridor of the North Fork Eel River and compelling the Forest Service to protect and restore the river as required by law. In 2002 a lawsuit filed by the Center and allies spawned an agreement with the Los Padres National Forest to develop a comprehensive management plan for its wild and scenic rivers, including the protection of more than 80 miles of the Big Sur River, Sisquoc River and Sespe Creek from numerous threats, including livestock grazing and oil and gas drilling. In 2018 the Center filed a lawsuit to require preparation of overdue management plans for eight wild and scenic rivers designated in 2009: the Amargosa River, Owens Headwaters, Cottonwood Creek, Piru Creek, North Fork San Jacinto River, Fuller Mill Creek, Palm Canyon Creek and Bautista Creek.

We also work to gain Endangered Species Act protection for California's riparian habitat and river-dependent plants and animals, including the state’s native fish — nearly 70 percent of which are in decline, extinct, or of special concern to conservation biologists. So far we've won critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, southern California steelhead trout, California red-legged frog and other California species threatened by poor river management.

Photo of Au Sable River in Michigan by cseeman/Flickr.