Senators Alexander, Corker stand up for wilderness protection

Duo reintroduce bill protecting nearly 20,000 acres in Tennessee

There are some stories I never tire of telling.

One is about my 10th-grade biology teacher at Central High School in Memphis, Tennessee. She opened up a magical world to me decades ago — encouraging our class to get out and experience the outdoors. The field trips we took gave me my first real introduction to nature.

Mrs. Schuele couldn’t have known it then, but the fabulous lessons she taught planted a seed that would blossom throughout my life. That biology class instilled in me a sense of wonder, a confidence that I could thrive in and protect the natural world. If it hadn’t been for that class, my mind may never have opened to the idea that conserving the great outdoors is the right cause for me.

She spent her whole career like that -- inspiring young minds and trying to leave our state better than she found it.

Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have been doing the same thing for their state’s wild places throughout their tenure in office. They recently took another step toward a legacy-caliber achievement by reintroducing a bill that would designate new wilderness areas on the Cherokee National Forest.  This measure could result in the first new Wilderness for Tennessee in 25 years.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 will protect nearly 20,000 acres of public land, expanding five existing Wilderness areas and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness Area. All of these areas were recommended for Wilderness designation in the U.S. Forest Service’s 2004 management plan.

As I told The Commercial Appeal newspaper last year, “Wilderness” is the highest level of protection the government can provide for wild places. It’s critical to designate more land in Tennessee this way so that the threat of development is permanently removed. The dividends this will pay our state are beyond calculation because the bill creates more places for people to hunt, fish, hike, bird, camp and enjoy Tennessee’s natural beauty. Wilderness also attracts tourists and the dollars they bring. It means better protection for our drinking water and provides homes for countless numbers of critters that fly, walk, swim and slither through these untamed lands.

Senators Alexander and Corker share all these values associated with Wilderness protection. While a small minority in their party seek to turn back the clock on conservation through a variety of recent attacks, Alexander and Corker are leading by example. They’re demonstrating the time-tested broad bipartisan support that always exists for protecting the natural resources our bodies need to survive and the open spaces we need to have fun.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 now heads to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, where Sen. Corker happens to sit. If one of your U.S. senators is on the list of committee members, contact him or her today and urge that the bill be passed. Once it clears that hurdle, let’s all contact our senators and tell them to vote for full passage.

Mrs. Schuele would certainly approve.

Learn more: Visit Tennessee Wild at http://tnwild.org/. You can also read a press release from Sen. Alexander and Sen. Corker.

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