Tahlequah Daily Press

November 20, 2013

History of Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission (OSRC)


TAHLEQUAH — The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission (OSRC) is a state agency responsible for oversight of three of the six scenic rivers in Oklahoma. The agency is headquartered on the Illinois River, a popular recreation destination for anglers, boaters, campers and swimmers.

The OSRC was created in 1977, seven years after the passage of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act. The following is a brief history of both:

The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1970, on the heels of the 1968 creation of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In 1975, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission came into being.

At the time the NWSRA was considered, rivers in the U.S. had little or no federal protections. According to OSRC Administrator Ed Fite, the law covered eight rivers instantly designated as components of the NWSRA, along with listing 27 other rivers marked to study for possible inclusion in the system of protected rivers.

From 1968-’70, Oklahoma struggled with various attempts to establish protection strategy for its rivers. In 1970, the state Legislature enacted House Bill 1152, the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act of 1970, naming four Oklahoma rivers to be placed into the scenic rivers system: the Flint Creek and Illinois River above Tenkiller Reservoir in Cherokee, Adair and Delaware counties; the Barren Fork Creek in Adair and Cherokee Counties from U.S. Highway 59 West to the Illinois River; and the Upper Mountain Fork River Broken Bow Reservoir in McCurtain and LeFlore Counties. In 1974, Big Lee’s Creek, in Sequoyah County, was added to the list.

In 1977, two pieces of legislation were enacted by the Oklahoma Legislature: the first, House Bill 1015, at the beginning of the session, added Little Lee’s Creek, in Adair and Sequoyah counties to the list of scenic streams. To avert local tensions, Sen. Herb Rozell, D-Tahlequah, and Rep. James Townsend, D-Shawnee, introduced Senate Bill 285 to further amend the OSRA to create the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and assign management of the Illinois River Basin, to show the state’s commitment to offset the federal law.

The OSRC is governed by a 12-member board of commissioners. Fite said when the board was created, people were adamant that it be locally controlled. Originally, the board was composed of two members appointed by the governor, one appointed by the speaker of the House, one appointed by the Senate pro tem, one appointed by the each county board of commissioner in Cherokee, Adair and Delaware counties, one elected from each of the three counties, and two at-large members.