Analysis

Bill to Protect Tennessee's Wilderness Advances in the Senate

On April 8, the Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 1294) took a step forward when the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry approved the measure and sent it to the full Senate for consideration. The bill, introduced by the state's two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, would permanently safeguard nearly 20,000 acres of biologically rich areas within the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee. The legislation would mark the first designation of new wilderness in the state in more than two decades and expand five wilderness areas.

Mike Matz, Pew's director of U.S. public lands initiatives, hailed the committee's approval of the legislation. “This bipartisan, common-sense measure embodies the principles set forth in the Wilderness Act 50 years ago, ensuring that future generations will be able to hike, hunt, fish, and camp in one of Tennessee's most scenic spots. Now is a fitting time to add this beautiful southern landscape to the nation's ‘bank' of protected treasures, and we urge Congress to quickly pass this conservation legislation.”

The measure would safeguard critical drinking water resources for numerous communities that rely on the Tennessee River as their primary source. The legislation would also preserve important habitat for brook trout, black bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer, as well as significant areas for migratory, breeding, and wintering birds.

Portions of the popular Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail would also be protected, as would areas near the Cherokee National Forest's Ocoee Whitewater Center, which was the site of whitewater events for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Outdoor recreation generates approximately $8.2 billion in consumer spending annually and supports about 83,000 jobs in Tennessee. Visitors to the Cherokee National Forest help fuel that economic engine. Protecting nearly 20,000 acres of forest as wilderness would enhance the state's reputation as a premier destination for outdoor recreation.

We hope to see this bill move through Congress this year.

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Susan Whitmore

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