Washington , DC -
Cascading falls in Bald River Gorge.
Photo credit: Bill & Laura Hodge
It’s a bill that has been introduced twice since 2010, and though it hasn’t made it to the Senate floor, Tennessee Republican Senators Lamar Alexander
and Bob Corker
aren’t giving up on protecting thousands of biologically rich acres in the state. Today, the pair reintroduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act
, which would permanently safeguard nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest
along the state’s eastern border.
First introduced in the 111th Congress, the measure would add to five existing wilderness areas and create the new Upper Bald River Wilderness. All of these areas were recommended for protection by the U.S. Forest Service
in its 2004 management plan. The Pew Charitable Trusts is calling for swift action to move the bill forward.
"We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Alexander and Corker, who continue to recognize the importance of Tennessee’s Southern Appalachian Mountains and insist that they be protected for future generations to enjoy," says Anders Reynolds of Pew’s U.S. public lands
team. "This area is one of the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests and is home to stands of old-growth hardwood forest, which are rare in the eastern United States."
The measure would preserve important habitat for brook trout, black bear, bobcat, and white-tailed deer, as well as migratory, breeding, and wintering areas for numerous bird species. The protected areas also would include portions of the popular Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail
as well as areas close to the Ocoee Whitewater Center in Cherokee National Forest, site of whitewater events during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
For years, the proposal has garnered enthusiastic bipartisan support from Tennessee businesses, organizations, and community leaders. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Cherokee National Forest, has also supported the Tennessee Wilderness Act.
"Protecting the forest is important for local businesses and communities," adds Reynolds. 'Wilderness designations promote the growth of a wide variety of recreational activities, such as hiking, boating, hunting, fishing, and camping."
Pew was one of several conservation groups that sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
urging quick action on the bill, saying, "The Tennessee Wilderness Act is a celebration of proud local heritage to protect the state’s most special places."