Over the past 5+ years, I have traveled across and up and down the State of Tennessee talking to people about wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest. With the recent reintroduction of the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2013 (S. 1294) in the United States Senate by Senators Lamar Alexander & Bob Corker, I have been reflecting on the depth & breadth of support for this legislation.
While politics in America is as polarized as I have ever seen, wilderness in Tennessee is our common ground. We have Democrats, Republicans & Independents who support the bill, along with lots of folks who want nothing to do with politics. I’ve talked to parents & grandparents concerned about their children and grandchildren’s future, hoping that they will someday have opportunities to experience their natural inheritance. We have fisherman, hunters, backpackers, hikers, artists, pastors, photographers, water utilities, birders, botanists, county mayors and more who support the bill. We also have scores of businesses who support the bill including outfitters, rafting companies, gun shops, delis, bakeries, and more. Dozens of non-profit groups support the bill including advocates for clean water, open space, paddlers, hikers, and a sustainable environment & economy. Yes, a healthy economy & environment are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand.
Why so much support? Let me count the ways.
- It costs the American taxpayer nothing. The lands are in public ownership, recommended for wilderness, and managed administratively as wilderness since 2004.
- The areas slated for protection are arguably the most biologically rich forests in the temperate world.
- Places like the Upper Bald River provide great opportunities for backcountry hunting and fishing. The Upper Bald is home to a healthy population of native brook trout.
- The outdoor industry in Tennessee directly contributes $8.2 billion dollars annually to our economy. This includes 83,000 jobs (directly) and $535 million dollars annually in local and state tax revenue.
- Lots of Tennesseans are concerned about protecting God’s creation. This bill does exactly that.
- Nearly 5 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and 15 miles of the Benton MacKaye Trail will be permanently protected by this bill.
- No local tax revenues will be lost by local comunities as a result of this bill.
- Water resources will be protected in the Watauga, Nolichucky, Little Tennessee, Bald, Tellico and Ocoee River watersheds. This is good for fish, paddlers, and downstream communities (like Chattanooga) who rely on the Tennessee River for drinking water.
This week, Tennessee Wild has taken out ads in the Johnson City Press, Maryville Daily Times, Chattanooga Times Free Press, and the Knoxville News Sentinel to express our gratitude towards Senators Alexander & Corker for taking this important step in the 113th Congress. We hope the bill will soon receive a long awaited vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and after passage, move on to the House of Representatives for debate and passage.
The last time a wilderness bill in Tennessee passed Congress was in 1986 when Ronald Reagan signed the Tennessee WIlderness Act of 1986 into law. Now, 27 years later, we have an opportunity to build upon that legacy. With 2014 marking the 50th anniversary of the creation of America’s Wilderness Preservation System, the time for passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act has arrived.
If you agree, please take a moment and write to your Congressional representatives and urge them to pass the Tennessee Wilderness Act without delay.