CHATTANOOGA — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests held a hearing Wednesday on the Tennessee Wilderness Act.
Introduced in late May by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, the bill would protect nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee as wilderness, including the first new wilderness area in the state in 25 years, the Upper Bald River Wilderness Area.
The legislation also adds acreage to five existing wilderness areas in the publicly owned Cherokee National Forest. Protecting these areas will help keep the Ocoee, Bald, Tellico, Nolichucky and Watauga rivers running clean, and provide access for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping for generations to come.
“This is a great step towards seeing this bill become law,” said Jeff Hunter, Tennessee Wild campaign director. “The areas that will be protected represent some of the greatest forest lands left in the eastern U.S. and some of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the temperate world.”
Home to white-tailed deer, bobcat and grey fox, the areas in the billprovide amazing brook trout and black bear habitat.
According to the Tennessee Ornithological Society, more than 262 species of birds are known to reside here or visit the forest seasonally. The entire forest is considered an Important Bird Habitat because of the significance the forest plays in ensuring viable populations of songbirds and a variety of other species.
The legislation is supported by a wide variety of stakeholders who understand the economic, environmental and personal benefits of wilderness including, business owners, local elected officials, members of the faith community, hunters, anglers, hikers and conservationists.
“Thanks to Senators Alexander and Corker for working to move this bill through the Senate. We appreciate their commitment to wilderness protection on the Cherokee and their leadership to leave a lasting legacy of beautiful wild places for Tennessee,” said Hunter.
Tennessee Wild is dedicated to protecting wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. It aims to educate the public about the benefits of wilderness and promote volunteerism and the sound stewardship of Tennessee’s wild place.