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Tennessee Wilderness Act Passes Hurdle in Congress

The Tennessee Wilderness Act is now part of the Federal Land Mangement Act of 2017 and would protect almost 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest. (John Iwanski/Flickr)
The Tennessee Wilderness Act is now part of the Federal Land Mangement Act of 2017 and would protect almost 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest. (John Iwanski/Flickr)
November 13, 2017

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -- Tennessee is one step closer to protecting nearly 20,000 acres of public land in the Cherokee National Forest in the northeastern part of the state.

A joint effort by Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker from Tennessee, and Pat Roberts of Kentucky, passed out of committee late last week and will move on for a full vote. Bill Hodge, executive director with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, explained the significance of protecting the land for future generations.

"What better thing than to know that our clean water starts in some of the most wild and preserved places,” Hodge said. "It gives us special places to recreate in, special places to reconnect with ourselves. It also provides incredibly important wildlife habitat, as well."

If the land is declared federal wilderness, it will be protected from development, road creation and motorized vehicles in perpetuity. Supporters say along with the additional protections for land and wildlife, the designation is also a safeguard for the state's outdoor recreation economy, which generates more than $21 billion annually in consumer spending.

The proposed areas are home to brook trout, white tailed deer, black bear, turkey and hundreds of additional species, said Hodge.

"These areas protect some incredibly diverse places,” he said. "We have a variety of eco-zone types that these areas represent and are, frankly, some of the last for these incredibly rich and diverse ecosystems."

The bill started out as the Tennessee Wilderness Act. It's now part of the Federal Land Management Act of 2017, which will also impact land in Virginia and Maine.

The Cherokee National Forest is already public land, but designating it as wilderness protects it from any changes made to federal lands based on policies in the current or future administrations.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN