The Tennessee Wild Coalition on Thursday applauded the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s hearing on the Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 755). The legislation was introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and is supported by a diverse coalition of hunters, anglers, business owners, faith leaders, outdoor recreationists, and conservationists.
The bill now awaits a Senate markup and introduction in the House of Representatives.
The hearing comes at a critical time, as wilderness legislation is starting to move in Congress. With the Republicans in the majority in the House and Senate, the Tennessee Wild Coalition is hopeful that the bill will gain traction. Given that this is the fourth time the senators have introduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act with overwhelming local support, the coalition is urging Congress act.
"For those with a forward-thinking faith-based perspective, being a good steward of Cherokee National Forest means taking care of God’s creation for future generations,” said Jeff Wadley, a pastor in Maryville. "For many, wilderness is seen as a place where people draw close to God. I hope Congress follows our Senators' leads and passes the Tennessee Wilderness Act this year.”
The legislation would safeguard nearly 20,000 acres of public land in the Cherokee National Forest. It would expand the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock, Big Frog, Little Frog, Big Laurel Branch, and Sampson Mountain wilderness areas, and create the new 9,000-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness Area.
Support for the Tennessee Wilderness is broad and deep. A survey by Ayres, McHenry & Associates, Inc.found that 74 percent of East Tennesseans support the bill. The support cut across party lines, with 70 percent of Republican, 76 percent of Independent, and 82 percent of Democratic voters supporting the proposal.
“Hunting and fishing is part of who we are here in Tennessee and it is important to preserve that heritage,” said John Champion, a life-long fisherman who lives in Cleveland. “Passing the Tennessee Wilderness Act would ensure that the forest stays the same the future generations to enjoy. Thank you, Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker for protecting our way of life. Now it is time for Congress to act.”
The proposal, situated within the Cherokee National Forest, is an outdoor recreation haven boasting 4.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail, nearly 15 miles of the Benton MacKaye Trail, cold-water streams, and incredible wildlife. With the passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act, access to the lands would not change, and land would remain open to hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, paddling, and other forms of recreation already allowed in the proposal areas.
Outdoor recreation is a critical part of Tennessee’s economy. The passage of the bill would only enhance the outdoor recreation economy, as it would show businesses that preservation is a sound investment. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2013 economic report, the outdoor recreation industry generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending in Tennessee annually and creates 83,000 in direct jobs in the state.
“My business depends on preserving our big backyard,” said Dawson Wheeler, co-owner of Rock/Creek Outfitters in Chattanooga and Benton. “I want to thank Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker for their steadfast leadership on the Tennessee Wilderness Act. It is now time for the House to follow their lead and Congress to pass this bill.”