Progress for Tennessee Wilderness

By Molly Moore

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge.

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge

Efforts to preserve wild lands in East Tennessee took a step forward this spring when a bill to designate nearly 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness passed the Senate Agriculture Committee.

First introduced by Tennessee Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in 2010, the Tennessee Wilderness Act would grant wilderness designation — the highest form of protection for public lands — to one new section of Cherokee National Forest and expand the boundaries of five existing wilderness areas.

“Creating and expanding these wilderness areas would have no effect on privately-owned land and will not increase costs for taxpayers,” Alexander said in a press statement.

Now that the bill has passed committee it is eligible to be heard on the Senate floor. A companion bill has not been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Virginia Land Trust Drilling Controversy Resolved

By Carvan Craft

This spring, nonprofit land trust Virginia Outdoors Foundation removed a provision allowing drilling for oil and gas on their conservation easements. Land trusts are organizations which, through contracts with landowners, aim to protect natural lands from development by placing that land into permanent conservation. Yet since 2012, the foundation has allowed landowners to maintain drilling rights on their easements.

Environmental groups including Virginia’s Piedmont Environmental Council were critical of the land trust’s drilling provision, which the group denounced as “contrary to the purpose of most easements.” The council has also noted growing concerns amongst local communities regarding the potential for hydraulic fracturing to impact water quality.

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