There was a present for Tennessee in the Farm Bill that recently passed Congress: The Tennessee Wilderness Act was included in the omnibus legislation. The act will designate 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest as protected wilderness.
A diverse coalition of outdoor recreation lovers, business owners, faith leaders, local lawmakers and conservationists, include SELC, worked to get the Tennessee Wilderness Act passed. It now goes to the White House for the President’s signature.
“It’s amazing to see the hard work and dedication from so many organizations, civic leaders and individuals that that helped carry the Tennessee Wilderness Act over the finish line,” said Catherine Murray, Executive Director of Cherokee Forest Voices. “What started as local grassroots support has evolved into a legacy that will protect these areas for generations to come who want to experience these wild lands firsthand.”
The act expands the existing Joyce Kilmer-Slicrock, Big Frog, Little Frog Mountain, Big Laurel Branch, and Sampson Mountain wilderness areas and creates a new 9,000-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness Areas — all places recommended for wilderness protection in the U.S. Forest Service’s 2004 management plan.
“We are excited by the culmination of this long campaign to protect some of the last great wild places in the South,” said Sam Evans, National Forest and Parks Program Leader for SELC. “A success like this requires a collaborative effort of organizations, elected officials, and citizens working together for a greater cause, which is a testament to just how special these places are.”
The wilderness designation will protect miles of hiking trails, including a 4.5 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, as well as the headwaters of the Bald River. Hikers, backpackers, campers, horseback riders, hunters, and anglers will all benefit — as will the businesses that depend on their spending when they visit the area.
The designation will help protect the abundant wildlife in the forest — brook trout, white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, turkey and more.
In addition to the Tennessee news, the Farm Bill also increased funding for key conservation programs nationwide that put federal dollars toward matching private land preservation efforts.