Environmental stewardship called crucial to future of Tennessee

Hank Hayes • Feb 17, 2007 at 10:18 AM

Tennessee's stewardship of the environment is critical to job creation and economic development, says a recently released University of Tennessee 2007 Economic Report to the Governor.

"People want to work and live in areas with strong environmental amenities," the report noted. "Problems like non-attainment of federal air quality standards in our metropolitan areas can hamper the state's ability to attract new employers. ... The sometimes overlapping control of environmental policymaking at different levels of government presents unique challenges for residents and policymakers within the state."

The UT report noted that due in part to the state's significant geographic diversity, local environmental conditions and natural resource endowments vary significantly across the state.

In air quality, the report noted that minimum standards are established under the federal Clean Air Act with responsibility for implementing those standards left to state and local authorities. In contrast, states are directed to uphold water quality standards.

State government, under the leadership of Gov. Phil Bredesen, has taken what he calls a "macro strategy" in the area of land preservation. Last November, the state finalized the purchase of 12,500 acres of Cumberland Plateau land from Bowater.

Bredesen said he recognized a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" when Bowater announced it would be divesting itself of significant land holdings in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund Board also awarded its first grants last November for eight projects across Tennessee. This initial round of grant funding will be leveraged with other public and private dollars and will result in the preservation of approximately 15,000 acres.

The Heritage Conservation Trust Fund was proposed by Bredesen and created by the General Assembly in 2005. The Trust Fund received an initial state investment of $10 million in the 2005-2006 fiscal year and an additional $10 million investment in 2006-2007.

In Bredesen's recently announced conservation proposal, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation says he is asking for an additional $10 million investment in the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund and an $82 million bond issue, which combined with investments being made by the Nature Conservancy and Lyme Timber Co. - a forestland investor that seeks properties with high conservation value - will secure for future generations about 124,000 acres of forest land valued at nearly $150 million in a contiguous area in Scott, Campbell, Anderson and Morgan counties known as the "Heart of the Cumberlands."

This appropriation includes about $30 million to secure control of the timber rights to the Martha Sundquist Wildlife Management Area and protect that property and its habitat for future generations.

"Ultimately, this project will help protect a natural corridor for wildlife, increase tourism, protect old-growth forests, and provide opportunities for public access and recreation for hunters and fishermen, day hikers and campers," Bredesen said of the move in a recent speech to members of the Tennessee Press Association. "I'm very aware that this is a larger conservation investment than usual, but the world is changing fast, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a core that we can build upon in the years ahead. God has blessed Tennessee with some of the most beautiful land on this earth, and we must do what it takes to protect it for our children's children, for all time."

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