Coalition Seeks Congressional Protection for Almost 20,000 Acres
Encompassing 640,000 acres in the mountains of east Tennessee, the Cherokee National Forest is a natural treasure chest. Its clear-running streams support some of our region’s last, best strongholds of native brook trout, and its footpaths, including the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail, make it a hiker’s paradise. In addition, the Cherokee's rich and diverse forest ecosystems provide habitat for 43 species of mammals, 55 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of bird life.
Yet only about 10 percent of the Cherokee is officially designated as wilderness—the highest environmental protection for our federal public lands. This means that some of the premier natural areas in the Southeast remain vulnerable to logging, mining, and road building.
Protecting Pristine Places
SELC and a coalition of partners, Tennessee Wild, have launched a campaign to designate almost 20,000 additional acres of the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness. It would be the first new wilderness in Tennessee in 25 years. Senators Alexander and Corker introduced the bill again in Spring 2015.
The bill creates one new Wilderness Area, the 9,038-acre Upper Bald River tract in Monroe County, and includes additions to five existing Wilderness Areas (click on each to see partner organization Tennessee Wild's fact sheets, which include maps):
- Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness (1,836 acres, Monroe County)
- Big Frog Wilderness (348 acres, Polk County)
- Little Frog Wilderness (966 acres, Polk County)
- Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (4,446 acres, Carter and Johnson counties)
- Sampson Mountain Wilderness (2,922 acres, Washington and Unicoi counties)
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service is recommending that all of the pristine forest tracts in the campaign be designated as wilderness.
What is Wilderness?
Under The Wilderness Act of 1964, areas that receive wilderness designation by Congress are forever protected as wild places, free from timber harvesting and other resource extraction and untouched by new road development. They are open to all of us for hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and wildlife watching.