Thursday, March 13, 2014
A half dozen participants of a coalition representing both the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and Tennessee Wild paid a visit last week to the offices of The Oak Ridger to promote passage of what they refer to as the “widely and locally supported” Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2013.
In a letter to The Oak Ridger’s editorial board, the Tennessee Wild Coalition stated, “Next September marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Just this past October, our community celebrated the 29th anniversary of the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 1984, which created our state’s beloved Citico Creek, Big Frog and Bald River Gorge wilderness areas that are still enjoyed today.” Introduced in the U.S.
Senate by Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, the Tennessee Wilderness Act would protect nearly 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest “and is awaiting a hearing in the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee,” last week’s delegation to The Oak Ridger stated.
“It has garnered enthusiastic bipartisan support from all around the state, including hundreds of businesses, organizations and community leaders,” the Tennessee Wild Coalition reports. “The U.S.
Forest Service recommended these areas for wilderness designation in its 2004 management plan and has endorsed our senators’ proposal.” While Sens. Alexander and Corker “have worked side-by-side with their constituents to safeguard this special place for future generations,” the Coalition is urging “quick action from Congress” – particularly U.S. Reps.
Chuck Fleischmann and Phil Roe – to help convey “the importance of passing this bill and protecting Tennessee wilderness.” The Tennessee Wild Coalition contends “the Tennessee Wilderness Act will protect our natural backyard that draws visitors and their dollars” to the state.
“In Tennessee, outdoor recreation generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending annually and is responsible for 83,000 jobs – and the Cherokee National Forest is part of that,” the Coalition writes.
Here are some “Act Facts” shared by last week’s visitors to The Oak Ridger, which included award-winning geneticist and conservationist Liane B. “Lee” Russell and executive director Sandra Goss, both of the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning: · The Tennessee Wilderness Act is pending legislation that would designate the state’s first new wilderness area in decades, expand five current wilderness areas, and permanently protect some 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest – “without requiring any new or added expense or funding.” A bipartisan issue, the bill was introduced by Republican Sens. Alexander and Corker, and enjoys support on both sides of the aisle.
Again, it costs the American taxpayer nothing.
“The lands are already in public ownership and recommended for wilderness designation by the U.S. Forest Service.” · Public access won’t change. “The lands are already being managed as wilderness, so the current use requirements will remain in place. You can hunt, fish, paddle, hike, camp, ride horses and enjoy other forms of non mechanized recreation in designated wilderness areas.” · Water resources will be protected in the Watauga, Nolichucky, Little Tennessee, Bald, Tellico and Ocoee river watersheds.
“Good for communities who rely on the Tennessee River for drinking water, clean water is important to everyone. We ALL live downstream.” · The bill has broad support across Tennessee by individuals, businesses, faith-based and non-profit organizations, groups and clubs who all value our public lands.
Small towns near the forest rely on tourist revenue to thrive and to grow.The legislative bill protects biologically rich habitat important to brook trout, black bear, bobcat, turkey and white tailed deer as well as migratory, breeding and wintering areas for numerous bird species. “This area is one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests on Earth.” And, finally, the Coalition points out that since it, literally, takes an “Act of Congress” to designate wilderness, these lands will not receive protection until our congressional leaders act.
“As the political process in America is a public one,” the Coalition stated, “it is important that your officeholders know what issues are important to their constituents.” “New Wilderness” under the Act includes the Upper Bald River (9,038 acres) in Monroe County; while “Additions to Wilderness Areas” include: · Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness-1,836 acres Monroe County.
- Big Frog Wilderness – 348 acres Polk County.
- Little Frog Wilderness – 966 acres Polk County.
- Big Laurel Branch Wilderness – 4,446 acres Carter” Johnson counties.
- Sampson Mountain Wilderness – 2,922 acres Washington” Unicoi counties.
“Write, call or email your congressional representative and encourage them to support the Tennessee Wilderness Act,” the Coalition concluded.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (District 3) can be contacted at 900 Georgia Ave., Suite 126, Chattanooga, TN 37402 (Phone: 202-225-3271) and U.S. Rep. Phil Noe (District 1) can be contacted at P.O. Box 1728, Kingsport, TN 37662 (Phone: 202-225-6356).
In addition to Russell and Goss, visitors representing the Coalition during its meeting with The Oak Ridger included Mary Lynn Dobson, a Roane County resident and a Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning director; Scotty Bowman of North East Tennessee, representing Tennessee Wild; and Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning president and Oak Ridge resident Jimmy Groton.
Darrell Richardson can be contacted at (865) 482-1021.