Congress should make wilderness permanent

Johnson City Press
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Robert Houk

When members of Congress return to Washington after the Nov. 6 presidential  election they will have a number of important pieces of unfinished business to  tackle. One such matter is the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011, a bill  sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander to designate additional acreage in the  Cherokee National Forest as wilderness areas.

Specifically, the Tennessee Republican wants to extend the protected acreage  of the Sampson Mountain Wilderness Area in Washington and Unicoi Counties  by 2,922 acres, as well as the Big Laurel Branch preserve in Carter and Johnson  counties by 4,446 acres.

Alexander's junior colleague in the Senate, Bob Corker, has signed on as a  co-sponsor of the measure, which represents the first expansion of Tennessee's  wilderness land in 25 years.

This acreage is already part of the Cherokee National Forest, which means  there is no need for federal funds to purchase these lands. But Congress must  take action to make this possible. It is the only entity that has the power to  make this wilderness designation permanent.

There are many benefits to having this designation. Jeff Hunter, Tennessee  field organizer for the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, told the Press  last year that one particularly good reason is that "there's no better way to  protect water quality than to protect intact forests."

Hunter also noted recently that this country is losing more than 6,000 acres  of open space each day.

"Now is not the time to halt wilderness protection," Hunter wrote in an  email.

As we said in this space last year, passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act  is a "win-win" for both taxpayers and Tennesseans who love nature and want to  see it preserved for future generations.

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