Tennessee's two U.S. senators and a House colleague have introduced a bill that would expand wilderness lands in the Cherokee National Forest, including in Polk and Monroe counties.
The Tennessee Wilderness Act is sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and 1st District Rep. Phil Roe.
In a statement, Alexander said: "I grew up hiking the mountains of East Tennessee and conserving some of the most beautiful areas in our state gives future generations of Tennesseans the same sort of opportunity.
"Tennessee is full of history, and this legislation would help protect our state's heritage while giving the millions of people who visit the state every year an additional reason to come and enjoy the great outdoors."
Alexander is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He is also chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development.
Corker said in the statement: "Millions of people visit Tennessee each year to experience our incredible God-given outdoor amenities, and it's important that the Cherokee National Forest be preserved for future generations of Americans to enjoy."
Roe added: "As an avid outdoorsman, I strongly believe we must protect the beautiful lands we're fortunate to have in East Tennessee. Though these particular lands have been treated as wilderness for more than a decade, it's important to officially protect them.
"I believe it's also important that we continue to allow permit holders the ability to hunt and fish on the land, which is why the bill includes specific language to protect these privileges," he said.
The Senate version of the bill would designate nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness area. The legislation would create one new wilderness area and expand the boundaries of five others.
Designation as a wilderness area is the highest level of conservation protection to preserve federal land. Alexander and Corker introduced this legislation in the last four Congresses, the statement said.
The Senate version of the Tennessee Wilderness Act would:
- Creates the 9,038 acre Upper Bald River Wilderness (Monroe County)
- Adds 348 acres to the Big Frog Wilderness (Polk County)
- Adds 966 acres to the Little Frog Mountain Wilderness (Polk County)
- Adds 2,922 acres to the Sampson Mountain Wilderness (Washington and Unicoi County)
- Adds 4,446 acres to the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (Carter and Johnson County)
- Adds 1,836 acres to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (Monroe County)
- Roe's House bill would designate nearly 7,500 acres in Tennessee's 1st Congressional District as wilderness area.