Wildlife officials release details of plan to clearcut wilderness area

Mike O'Neal, a longtime hunter, surveys an expanse of the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area where clearcutting is planned to create quail habitat. / Photo by John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials have formally released details of a plan for the clearing of thousands of acres of forest in a popular, publicly-owned hunting and recreation destination in White County.

About 2,000 acres in the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area in White County - about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville - will be cleared in phases over the next three years to create a grassy habitat for the Northern bobwhite quail, a game bird whose population has plummeted in Tennessee in recent decades.

A bidding process for timber companies to purchase the rights to harvest trees begins next month, according to the wildlife agency plan unveiled at a regular board meeting in December.

The agency's public unveiling of the plan has galvanized local officials in opposition to clearcutting an area that has long served as an unspoiled wilderness - and an economic boon to local businesses catering to tourists, hikers, kayakers and other visitors who stay in local vacation rentals, visit local coffee shops and fill up their cars at local gas stations.