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Tennessee Wilderness Act nears passage

Johnson City Press • Nov 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Legislation to designate additional acreage in the Cherokee National Forest as a wilderness area cleared a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate last week.

The Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved the Tennessee Wilderness Act, which is sponsored by Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, is the primary sponsor of the legislation in the House.

“Conserving some of the wildest, most pristine and beautiful areas in our state gives future generations of Tennesseans the opportunity to enjoy Tennessee’s land and heritage,” Alexander said in a news release after the committee’s vote. “The Tennessee Wilderness Act would help protect our natural heritage and give the millions of people who visit Tennessee each year an additional reason to come and enjoy our great outdoors.”

The act expands 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. Passage of the bill would represent the first expansion of Tennessee’s wilderness land in more than 25 years.

The acreage identified in the Tennessee Wilderness Act is already part of the Cherokee National Forest, which means there is no need for federal funds to purchase these lands.Even so, Congress must take action to make this wilderness designation permanent.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act has been winding its way through Congress for several years. There have been a few setbacks and delays, but we believe the finish line is now in sight.

Passage of the Tennessee Wilderness Act would be a victory for every Tennessean who loves nature and wants to see it preserved for future generations to enjoy. It will also bolster efforts to market Northeast Tennessee as desirable destination for eco-tourists.

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