Each year, National Public Lands Day provides a chance to reflect on the key role these special public spaces play in American lives.
One of the exceptional public places on that list is the Cumberland Plateau, which runs through eastern Tennessee and is renowned for its expansive forests, rich aquatic life, and outstanding outdoor recreation. Much of the plateau is state land and an important habitat for migrating birds like the threatened Cerulean warbler.
While much of the land is state-owned wildlife management areas, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other private coal companies own the rights to coal deposits below these lands. In years past, surface coal mining left a devastating environmental footprint on the plateau including clear cuts, polluted rivers, and unstable slopes.
To protect this area from further mining, SELC worked for years with partner groups to support the state of Tennessee’s petition to the Department of Interior to declare the land unsuitable for further surface mining. The Department granted that request in late 2016, designating 75,000 acres of mountain ridgelines off-limits to future surface mining, including mountaintop mining. These areas contain most of the older growth forests that exist in the area and are prime Cerulean warbler habitat.