Senate Agriculture Committee Passes Legislation To Preserve Nearly 20,000 Acres In Cherokee National Forest

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday passed by voice vote the Tennessee Wilderness Act, legislation by Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker that would designate nearly 20,000 acres in six areas of the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness areas.

“The Tennessee Wilderness Act would preserve federally owned land that has been managed as wilderness areas since 2004,” Senator Alexander said. “Creating and expanding these wilderness areas would have no effect on privately-owned land and will not increase costs for taxpayers. This legislation would help protect some of the wildest, most pristine and beautiful areas in East Tennessee and give the millions of visitors to our state an additional reason to come enjoy our outdoors.”

Senators Alexander and Corker first introduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act in 2010, and it was recommended by the Forest Service in 2004. Designation as a wilderness area is the highest level of conservation protection to preserve land. Alexander and Corker’s legislation would create one new wilderness area, and expand the boundaries of five existing wilderness areas, within the Cherokee National Forest. The new wilderness area would be the Upper Bald River Wilderness, which is more than 9,000 acres in Monroe County.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2013:

  • Creates the 9,038-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness (Monroe County)
  • Adds 348 acres to the Big Frog Wilderness (Polk County)
  • Adds 966 acres to the Little Frog Wilderness (Polk County)
  • Adds 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness (Washington and Unicoi County)
  • Adds 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (Carter and Johnson County)
  • Adds 1,836 acres to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (Monroe County)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Wilderness Act, which created wilderness areas and has since preserved more than 109 million acres, about five percent of the land in the United States.

Senator Alexander testified on Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture Committee regarding the Tennessee Wilderness Act.

His full remarks are below:

"Thank you Chairman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran for the invitation to be here today to share with you and other members of the committee why the Tennessee Wilderness Act is so important to me and the State of Tennessee.

"I first introduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act in 2010 to help preserve some of the wildest, most pristine and beautiful areas in East Tennessee.  The bill will officially designate 19,556 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as 'wilderness areas.'

"Wilderness designation is the highest form of protection we can give to public lands and ensures that they will be preserved for future generations.  No roads, vehicles or permanent structures are allowed in designated wilderness areas. 

"To say that this land is among the wildest, most pristine and beautiful areas in East Tennessee sets a very high bar, since the region includes the Appalachian Mountains and our nation’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

"From growing up in these mountains and my many years of hiking the quiet trails of the Cherokee National Forest, I can personally attest that there is something very special about this region.

"These lands were recommended for wilderness area designation by the U.S. Forest Service as part of their comprehensive 2004 forest plan, which included extensive opportunities for public comment. 

"As the result of extensive local public input, this legislation has broad support from fisherman, hunters, backpackers, hikers, artists, pastors, botanists, and state and local officials – all of whom support the bill.

"I want to emphasize that the lands that are being proposed for designation are already owned by the federal government and are within the boundary of the Cherokee National Forest.  As a result, no local tax revenues will be lost by local communities.

"And in these tight budget times, because these lands have been managed by the Forest Service as Wilderness Study Areas since 2004, there will be no additional cost to the federal government according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"The bill before the committee today is critical to preserving the legacy of Tennessee’s natural heritage.  Designation as a wilderness area will not only better protect ecosystems and watersheds, but also benefit the diverse recreational value of these areas, which is a major part of East Tennessee’s economy.

"Mr. Chairman, we are in the midst of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first 'Wilderness Act,' and I would ask members of this committee to exercise the extraordinary foresight that the Senate did in 1964 and support passing the Tennessee Wilderness Act out of this committee.

"Thank you again Chairman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran for the opportunity to testify before the committee today."

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