Tennessee Wilderness Act Takes Key Step Toward Passage

Tennessee Wilderness Act Takes Key Step Toward Passage

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry approved the Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 1294) on April 8, 2014, sending it to the full Senate for action.

The bill, introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and co-sponsored by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), would permanently safeguard nearly 20,000 acres of biologically rich areas within the Cherokee National Forest in Eastern Tennessee. It would result in designation of the state's first new wilderness in decades and expand five current wilderness areas.

Mike Matz, The Pew Charitable Trusts' director of U.S. public lands, said, “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 Tennessee Wilderness Act would safeguard critical water resources for numerous communities that rely on the Tennessee River for drinking water. It would also preserve important habitat for brook trout, black bears, bobcats, and white-tailed deer, as well as migratory, breeding, and wintering areas for numerous bird species.

Portions of the popular Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail, as well as areas near the Ocoee Whitewater Center in the Cherokee National Forest—the site of whitewater events during the 1996 Summer Olympics—would also be preserved.

In Tennessee, outdoor recreation generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending annually and 83,000 jobs. The Cherokee National Forest is a vital part of that economic engine. Preserving the 19,556 acres of forest as wilderness would help enhance the state's reputation as a premier outdoor recreation destination.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act has garnered broad bipartisan endorsement from Tennessee business owners, community organizations, and local elected officials who feel that “wilderness is our common ground.” The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Cherokee National Forest, supports the measure, as well.

In November 2013, the Chattanooga Times Free Press wrote: “This bill is a no-brainer for passage. It has no cost, no downside and would benefit Tennessee, the nation and the state and regional outdoor industry. As a bonus, it preserves this beauty for generations to come.”

Next up for the Tennessee Wilderness Act? A vote by the full Senate, and introduction in the House.

Visit this amazing area and hear from the people who want to protect Tennessee's wilderness in this episode of “This American Land,” produced in partnership with Pew.