New life for Wilderness bills

Two important Wilderness bills are making their way through the U.S. Senate.

Legislation currently being re-introduced by Republican Senators from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, could add the first new Wilderness to Tennessee in 25 years.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act would designate 19,556 acres of Wilderness in six areas of the Cherokee National Forest. The bill expands five existing Wilderness areas and creates the Upper Bald River Wilderness. These areas were recommended for wilderness designation in the U.S. Forest Service’s 2004 Management plan.

“The legislation will implement an important ‘next step’ for some of the most beautiful and pristine areas of wilderness in east Tennessee near where I live,” Senator Alexander told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry when he introduced the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 last year. “To say that these are some of the wildest and most beautiful areas sets a very high standard since the region is home to the Appalachian Mountains.”

The legislation received a hearing in the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, last Wednesday. The Chief of the Forest Service, Thomas Tidwell, testified that the Department of Agriculture strongly supports wilderness designation of this land.

“Time ran out last Congress for this bill,” said Tennessee Wild campaign coordinator Jeff Hunter. “We hope the legislation moves quickly this Congress to provide the safeguards these lands to richly deserve.”

New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall also reintroduced the Organ Mountains – Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act (S. 1024), which will create 241,000 acres of Wilderness and 460,000  acres of National Conservation Area in Southern New Mexico.

The Organ Mountains rise 9,000 feet from the valley floor and extend for 20 miles. The new designated Wilderness would fall within Doña Ana County – the second largest county in New Mexico.

The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year but was not considered by the full Senate in the 111th Congress.

“We welcome this opportunity to enhance protection for some of America’s treasured landscapes, ” said Robert Abbey, the Department of the Interior Director of the BLM who testified before the Energy & Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests.

“These lands are famous for their abundant wildlife, and contain significant fossil resources. A well-preserved giant ground sloth skeleton, now housed at Yale University, was discovered in this area. The sheer breadth of these lands and their open, expansive vistas offer remarkable opportunities for solitude,” he said.

The Tennessee and New Mexico Wilderness bills are a welcome contrast to the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, or the Great Outdoors Giveaway. The Great Outdoors Giveaway (H.R. 1581) gives corporate polluters and developers, who already have access to 76 percent of all national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, access to even more of America’s vanishing wilderness.

To view a complete list of wilderness bills, please visit: http://wilderness.org/content/112th-congress-and-wildlands.

The Wilderness Society will continue to work with people on-the-ground to ensure that these beloved places are protected for future generations.

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