Conservationists Applaud New Wilderness Bill for Tennessee
Tennessee Wild, a broad coalition of conservation organizations, praised Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker today for introducing legislation to permanently protect new wilderness areas on the Cherokee National Forest. Organization leaders celebrated the bill’s introduction and the chance for the first new wilderness in Tennessee in nearly 25 years.
“The Cherokee National Forest represents some of the most biologically diverse and scenic lands in the country,” said Jeff Hunter, Tennessee Wild campaign coordinator. “This bill is a great start towards protecting these unique wild landscapes. Tennesseans are lucky to have such outstanding areas for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and horseback riding.”
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 will protect nearly 20,000 acres of forest as wilderness – expanding five existing wilderness areas and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness. All the areas in the bill were recommended for wilderness designation by the US Forest Service in the agency’s 2004 management plan.
>>(For a copy of the bill as well as maps and descriptions of each area, go to www.tnwild.org)
A wide variety of stakeholders have come out in support of designating wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest including sportsmen, business owners, local lawmakers, religious leaders and others across east Tennessee.
“It’s impossible to understate the importance of wilderness to our business,” said Sutton Bacon, CEO of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. “This legislation will help safeguard a resource that hundreds of thousands of people enjoy every year through various outdoor recreation activities. Protecting these natural areas for future generations of outdoor lovers is at the core of our business philosophy, and also part of our responsibility as Americans to leave wilderness spaces for our children to enjoy.”
“The saints have taught that we encounter God, and learn about God, in a special way in nature,” said Robin Gottfried, executive director of the Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South. “Wilderness offers us the chance to do so with the least distractions from human interference. In a time of growing populations and shrinking natural areas, wilderness areas such as these represent an increasingly critical spiritual resource for people of all faith traditions.”
Will Skelton, a retired Knoxville attorney and longtime wilderness activist expressed delight in seeing these areas protected. “As coordinator of the successful effort in the 1980s to protect as federally designated wilderness some of the Cherokee National Forest’s most scenic areas, I have long hoped that several beautiful and deserving additional areas could someday be similarly protected, including the Upper Bald River area. With the introduction of the current wilderness bill by Senators Alexander and Corker, protecting those added areas is much closer to becoming a reality.”
“Nearly 75 percent of east Tennessee voters support more wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest including hunters, anglers, hikers, ATV riders and mountain bikers,” added Hunter, referring to an independent Ayres, McHenry and Associates survey conducted in January. “This overwhelming support shows how important our public lands are to a variety of interests.”
Tennessee Wild is dedicated to protecting wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. We aim to educate the public about the benefits of wilderness and promote volunteerism and the sound stewardship of Tennessee’s wild places. Members of the coalition are:
Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, Southern Environmental Law Center, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Cherokee Forest Voices, The Wilderness Society, Campaign for America’s Wilderness of the Pew Environment Group, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and Tennessee Chapter-Sierra Club.