Tennessee Wilderness Act moving forward in the U.S. Senate

The Tennessee Wilderness Act, proposed by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both R-Tenn., would protect 20,000 acres from further development. (B. Dunne/flickr.com)

Tennessee’s U.S. senators are moving ahead with a bill providing protections for the state’s wilderness lands, even while the Trump administration works to remove protections elsewhere.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker introduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act – S.973 – to protect 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest. Laura Hodge, campaign coordinator for Tennessee Wild, said the Republican-led legislation faces good odds in the Senate.
“This bill is huge because, with a Republican bill – conservation bill – being introduced in a Republican climate, we’ve got a great opportunity to get this bill passed,” Hodge said. “And it’s significant because it protects some of the most pristine places in the Southeast.”
Designating a place a wilderness area is the highest level of conservation protection for federal land.
This bill comes as President Trump announced an executive order last week prompting a review of several national monuments – most of which are located in the West. According to the latest numbers from the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates almost $4 billion in federal tax revenue per year, and about the same amount for states in the Southeast – a region that includes Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Mark McNight of Chattanooga has been active in public land conservation for the past decade. He said while designating additional lands as wilderness would be a win for the Volunteer State, threatening protections of national monuments in other parts of the country is indicative of a larger problem.
“If you start not following these rules and start trying to undo the process, it puts the whole public lands system at risk,” McNight said; “because, if you think about it, protecting land forever is a concept that requires us all to believe in the same thing.”
Bill Hodge, executive director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, said it’s important to pay attention to national policy changes, even if they don’t directly impact the state.
“While a place like the Smokies is not at risk because it is a national park and it’s not a national monument that’s been designated, this all starts to undermine this entire idea of the value of public lands,” Hodge said.
A number of national monuments across the country are threatened by Trump’s executive order.
This is the fifth time the Tennessee Wilderness Act has been introduced, but supporters are hopeful that, since it has the support of members of the majority party, this time it will pass.