Just-passed Farm Bill includes protection for 20,000 acres of Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest

Tucked inside the 800-page, $800 million-plus Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill, is a smaller piece of legislation dedicated to the continued conservation of thousands of acres of forested land in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act will designate the highest level of protection for 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest. With the bill’s passage this week — and expected forthcoming signature of the president — comes the first new wilderness designation in Tennessee since 1986, when much of the northeast area of the forest was protected.

The act protects about 12,000 acres in the southern zone of the forest in Monroe and Polk counties. The remaining 8,000 acres will create the new Upper Bald zone. That new designation will protect much of the Bald River and Bald River Falls area, which provides water to the Tellico and Ocoee River watersheds.

With the designation comes a set of guidelines on how the area can be managed: no mechanized or gas-powered equipment, no logging, no drilling, no mining, no road building. Ten percent of the forest is designated wilderness. With the new act, that will increase to 13 percent — which is still 5 percent less than the national average for forested areas.

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