EDITORIAL Out of the wilderness: Tennessee Wilderness Act deserves passage in Congress

The Mountain Press
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Stan Voit, Editor
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 is now before Congress. It has the support of our two senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, as well as a coalition of environment and wildlife groups.

It is a measure that deserves to be passed and enacted into law. Tennessee Wild is a coalition of groups working to expand wilderness in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest. Member groups include Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, Smoky Mountain Hiking Club, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and The Wilderness Society, among others.

According to Jeff Hunter, director of the Chattanooga-based Tennessee Wilderness Campaign, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, the Forest Service released a document in 2004 entitled the Revised Land and Resource Management Plan for the Cherokee National Forest. The plan featured recommendations for expanding wilderness in the Cherokee.

These recommendations have become the basis for the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011. It was introduced in May by Alexander. The bill passed the full Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support in October. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, whose 1st District includes Sevier County, has indicated he supports the bill, Hunter said. The bill permanently protects 19,556 acres of the forest by expanding five existing wilderness areas in Monroe, Polk, Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties.

Those of us in Sevier County who appreciate the preservation of land from unnecessary development can certainly support such an effort even if it does not directly affect or touch Sevier County. The bill also creates the first new wilderness area in Tennessee in 25 years, Hunter said: the 9,000-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness in Monroe County.

All the lands in line for protection are in public ownership and are being managed as wilderness by the Forest Service. No roads will be closed. No taxes will be lost by local communities. And the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 does not contain an appropriation, so these lands can be protected without expense to the taxpayer.

Since only Congress can designate wilderness, these lands will not receive permanent protections until Congress acts. This bill has broad support both in our congressional delegation and from citizens and groups of all kinds and political persuasions. Let's hope Congress will act on the bill this year and protect these lands from development and unwise management. Copyright 2012 The Mountain Press. All rights reserved.