PHOTOS: Environmentalists hope fourth time’s a charm for Tennessee Wilderness Act

Johnson City Press
Johnson City, Tennessee

February 22nd, 2015
Tony Casey

PHOTOS: Environmentalists hope fourth time's a charm for Tennessee Wilderness Act

The 1964 Wilderness Act promised citizens of the U.S. solitude and refuge in the great outdoors and groups like Tennessee Wild advocate for further projects like the Tennessee Wilderness Act. (Contributed by Tennessee Wild)

If you love the wilderness that surrounds East Tennessee, there are two things you can do to help see that it remains protected and available to other nature lovers.

Contact your Republican legislators — U.S. Phil Roe and Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, the last two who’ve championed the Tennessee Wilderness Act to go further than the 1964 Wilderness Act in assuring Tennesseans that great portions of their environments and ecosystems remain undeveloped without direct human intervention — and let them know that you want to see the act signed into law. And the secondly, you need to get out and enjoy these places.

When the Wilderness Act was signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was lauded for the way it defined wilderness as opposed to developed lands in the United States.

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” the act read.

This has inspired lawmakers to make a push for Tennessee’s wilderness, which has taken some time to complete.

Just ahead of the fourth push since 2004 to get the Tennessee Wilderness Act passed, local and state environmentalists are working to make sure this time it succeeds.

“I grew up hiking the mountains of East Tennessee, and conserving these areas gives future generations of Tennesseans the same sort of opportunity,” Alexander said. “This legislation takes important steps toward protecting our natural heritage, and gives the millions of people who visit Tennessee each year an additional reason to come and enjoy our outdoors.”

Alexander was applauded by his Senate colleague Corker in supporting the act that would keep the area’s great outdoors as pristine as possible for all to enjoy, even tourists who come into the area and support the economy.

“I think Tennesseans take great pride in the fact that millions of people visit our state every year to experience our incredible God-given amenities. I thank Senator Alexander for his lifelong commitment to protecting wilderness areas and am proud to join him in this effort to preserve the Cherokee National Forest for future generations of Tennesseans and Americans to enjoy.”

Tennessee Wild, a group that endeavors to protect the Cherokee, has made it their mission to see that this fourth time around that the act passes successfully through both houses. The Hodges, Bill and Laura, lead the effort and also applaud their politicians’ efforts.

If enacted, the bill would see that additional acreage in the area is placed under special wilderness protection, which wouldn’t be an end but a continuation in preserving the land set aside by the National Forest Service. Bill Hodge said this is the often the most frustrating part of the process — that the Forest Service has recommended 19,556 of the 655,598 acres of the Cherokee get that level of protection, but that they need to piecemeal 10,000-20,000 acres at a time, often taking 10 years each time. This would put the level of wilderness designation in the Cherokee at about 13 percent, which is significantly less than the national average of 18 percent.

“We’re at 60,000 (acres), when this bill passes, that goes to 80,000,” Bill Hodge sad. “That leaves about 580,000 acres left for management.”

Bill Hodge, who heads the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards outfit from Asheville, North Carolina, and Tellico Plains, is hopeful the act will pass time around, citing the bi-partisan support its had. He called it a “no-brainer“ and something that would leave a lasting legacy on the state, especially the economy, which is boosted up by about $6.3 billion in outdoor recreation and supports more than 65,000 jobs.

Locally, the act would add 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness in Washington and Unicoi County and 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness in Carter and Johnson County.

Though the Hodges reside in Monroe County, Bill said his favorite places in the state include these two portions of soon-to-be-designated wilderness.

Local trail consultant Dan Reese was equally as excited as the Hodges to see the extra protection for the land around him.

”They provide areas for wildlife habitat, water improvement, the population of the area to enjoy nature in a pristine way,“ Reese said. ”Undeveloped wilderness is to be safeguarded as best possible.”

To Reese, pursuing the Tennessee Wilderness Act has been a positive experience for the state, showing that preservation of the environment can exist on both sides of the aisle.

“This one, because it’s seen as a way of enhancing the economy of the region and not just in Tennessee, but the country, that it will be supported by both the left and the right,” Reese said.

Reese, like the Hodges, suggests that people contact their legislators to let them know that the support of environmental protection acts is of the utmost importance.

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An earlier portion of this article has been corrected to reflect the proposed acreage to be protected by the Tennessee Wilderness Act.

Read more: PHOTOS: Environmentalists hope fourth time’s a charm for Tennessee Wilderness Act | Johnson City Press
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