PHOTO: It would permanently protect some 20,000 acres of Cherokee National Forest, and supporters of the Tennessee Wilderness Act are hoping the passage by Congress will come yet this year. Photo credit: Mark Doliner/Flickr.
Congress returns to session next month, and while not much may get done pre-election, there could be moved afterwards on several bills, including one that supporters in Tennessee have been trying to get passed for years. There’s a chance that the Tennessee Wilderness Act could win approval by being grouped together with other bills, said Will Skelton, an advisory committee member with the group Tennessee Wild. “That’s the most likely outcome,” he said. “Everyone thinks that they’ll package several non-controversial Republican and Democrat bills together and possibly pass them after the election.” Approval of the act would permanently protect some 20,000 acres of Cherokee National Forest, with the expansion of five current wilderness areas and the creation of the state’s first new one in 25 years. Skelton said that new area would be the Upper Bald River Wilderness, which is more than 9,000 acres in Monroe County. “Upper Bald River is one of the very, very best,” he said. “It’s one of the gems of the whole forest, and so we really think it’s time to protect those areas. This bill would do that. It would protect the Upper Bald River and the additions to several other areas that also should be protected.” The Tennessee Wilderness Act was first introduced in 2010. It’s now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor and has the support of both of the state’s U.S. senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Details of the legislation, S.1294, are online at beta.congress.gov.