Tennessee Wilderness Act: Myths vs. Facts

MYTH: You can’t hunt or fish in wilderness.

FACT: Hunting (with or without dogs) and fishing are absolutely allowed – as is hiking, camping, horseback riding, paddling, and many, many other forms of non-mechanized recreation.

In southeast Tennessee, it is a common misconception that you cannot hunt in wilderness because the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) uses the footprint of the Citico Creek Wilderness as a ‘bear sanctuary’, a place where no bear hunting is allowed. Bears need large, intact areas of habitat to thrive and wilderness areas provide just that. The no-hunting rule in Citico Creek Wilderness is strictly a mandate of TWRA and is NOT related to wilderness designation in the area. People have been hunting in Cherokee National Forest wilderness areas for generations and will continue to do so upon passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act.


MYTH: You can’t fight fire in wilderness.

FACT: The Wilderness Act allows agencies to take any such measure “as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases.” The use of mechanized equipment, the building of fire roads, fire towers, firebreaks, or pre suppression facilities and other techniques for fire control are allowed. In short, anything necessary for public health or safety (for example, protecting adjacent private lands and buildings) is clearly permissible.


MYTH: Motorized transportation is totally prohibited in wilderness areas, even in emergencies.

FACT: The law clearly allows for use of vehicles or equipment by managing agencies for search and rescue, firefighting, and other circumstances when appropriate. For example, helicopters or ATV’s may be used to evacuate an injured person, or heavy machinery may be used to cut fire lines.


MYTH: Wilderness designation hurts local economy by preventing extraction jobs like logging.

FACT: Wilderness actually provides numerous economic benefits to gateway forest towns like Tellico Plains and Copperhill that depend on unspoiled mountains, forests and rivers to boost tourism, increase property values, and provide clean air and drinking water. By preserving the natural capital in an area, communities can diversify their local economy by attracting and retaining new businesses, residents and returning tourists, which increases county revenues and lessens the burden of local taxpayers.

Also, the areas recommended for protection are inventoried as ‘roadless’ by the US Forest Service, and are not eligible for logging, mining, road building and development.


MYTH: Wilderness erodes private property rights.

FACT: Not a single acre of private property is within the wilderness boundary. Wilderness does NOT erode private property rights because it is only designated on federal lands. Conversely, property values near National Forest boundaries and designated wilderness areas are higher than average.

MYTH: Wilderness is a cause for environmentalists, liberals and ‘tree-huggers’.

FACT: Wilderness is a bi-partisan issue that supports values that benefit everyone, near and far, regardless of age, race, or political persuasion. Sponsored by two Republican Senators, Alexander and Corker, it appeals to a broad range of citizens who value clean water, recreational opportunities, scenic beauty, and local tourism. Every president since 1964 has signed wilderness bills, including Ronald Reagan who signed 43. The Tennessee Wilderness Act is locally-developed, nonpartisan legislation that has unprecedented bipartisan support – 74% of Tennesseans polled support designating additional Cherokee National Forest land as wilderness.


MYTH: It’s part of the National Forest so it’s already protected/wilderness.

FACT: In the National Forest, only designated wilderness areas carry the highest level of conservation unlike in National Parks where the entire park is protected. National Forest land is managed for ‘multiple use’ like logging, mining, road building and other development, where National Parks focus on protecting natural and historic resources.

Both are public land, but are managed differently. For example, Hunting (with or without dogs) is perfectly legal in the National ‘Forest’ wilderness, but hunting is against the law in the Great Smoky Mountains National ‘Park’.


MYTH: A large portion of the Cherokee National Forest is already designated wilderness.

FACT: Currently, about 10% of the Cherokee National Forest is designated wilderness. Upon passage of the bill, 13% will be wilderness; this is significantly less than the national average (18%) in other states.


MYTH: Wilderness ‘locks up’ land or ‘locks people out’.

FACT: The Wilderness Act specifically says that wilderness is for the “use and enjoyment” of the American people.

More than 12 million people visit wilderness each year to enjoy activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, photography, paddling, climbing, horseback riding, skiing, swimming, wildlife viewing, etc. In short, most types of outdoor recreation are allowed in wilderness. Other than wheelchairs, mechanical transport or motorized equipment, such as off-road vehicles, bicycles and snowmobiles are not allowed. Millions of acres public land is open to other recreation, and the fraction of land preserved as wilderness ensures that those seeking non-motorized recreational opportunities can enjoy them in an environment free from the effects of “expanding settlement and growing mechanization” mentioned in the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is part of America’s heritage and passed on as a legacy to our children by many who value the existence of its natural and undeveloped character.