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Crunch Time--Tell Tennessee to Save Global Treasures

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We've probed the oceans, sifted soils, scoured jungles and forests. We've examined moons and planets, and after decades of searching we find that the river-valley system of the Southern Appalachians on Planet Earth remains a gold standard for biodiversity.

Tennessee's smack in the middle of it, so that makes our business your business. Our forests and rivers comprise flourishing habitats and deep carbon wells which benefit you. The entire world really.

Sadly Tennessee ranks among the top in destruction of habitat. That's why folks who take time to preserve this tapestry that gives rise to songbirds, speckled trout and blue-tailed salamanders are heroes to me.

They need your help, because the State Parks Land Acquisition Fund--so important in saving Tennessee's great natural treasures--has become an endangered species. Even as this is written, the fund's fate is being decided in the Tennessee state legislature. (See links below).

Despite promises by some to the contrary, Republicans who run the legislature could yet divert the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT)--a fund dedicated in 1991 to saving wilderness, farmlands and parks--to attack general fund shortfalls. It's been done before.

Please urge them pledge this fund to its intended purpose. Our natural world must not be sacrificed on the altar of politics and backroom deals.

Bear with me if you care about wildlife, clean water, air and natural beauty. This real estate tax was passed in 1986 for the purpose of preserving wetlands, but thanks to hard work by Tennessee nature lovers generally, it was expanded in 1991 to become a powerful force in saving wild and scenic lands and rivers, as well as to build parks across the state. You don't have to go far to feast your eyes, your soul, on what's been preserved.

The view from Buzzard's Roost, one of the most photographed vistas in the southeastern United States was preserved at Fall Creek Falls--among the highest east of the Rockies--in 1992. The crown of Black Mountain, a wonderland of woods, bluffs and scenic vistas was saved with seed money from RETT. Add the Cumberland Trails State Park, a 220-mile wilderness maze stretching from Virginia to Georgia, and you begin to see the impact this fund's had. It's preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland from bulldozers and drills and asphalt.

It's brought millions of dollars to the region in federal and private matching grants and bolstered our tourism economy, while enhancing property values, recreational opportunities, scenery, and the quality of air and water over much of the Southeast and beyond. By providing habitat for migrating songbirds, and a deep carbon well in its forests, its influence is felt across the western hemisphere.

Now comes word the fund will be sacrificed to the state budget. It took lobbyists, legislators, bureaucrats and ordinary people working together to make it a reality. Once diverted, re-channeling it will not be easy. If we lose this fund, our mountains, waterfalls, songbirds and other natural wonders could be lost, maybe for all time. Gov. Phil Bredesen has diverted this fund before, but to his credit he's included the money in his version of this year's budget. Still, Republicans hold a majority. They need reminding that the habitats and carbon sinks of Tennessee's rivers, fields and forests are fragile, elegant things, and that all Americans have a stake them. Time is not on the side of our trees, rivers and our amazing variety of species. They disappear daily, and as the economy grows, they'll disappear faster. The time to save them is now, while land prices are low and natural treasures available.

Please take a moment to contact members of the Finance Committee, the Governor and other legislators, including yours if you live in Tennessee, by clicking on this user-friendly page: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/. Urge them to restore the real estate transfer tax to its original purpose: saving our lands, rivers, wildlife and parks. Even if you don't live in Tennessee, you have a stake in cleaner air and waters for us all, so please help NOW. It's my understanding they'll be making final decisions during the remainder of this week and early next. PLEASE DON'T DELAY. Let them know we won't take kindly to sacrificing our air and water and a future for our children and fellow creatures on this planet.

OR cut to the chase, and start phoning on this list, especially those marked by an asterisk. ( * ) These guys really, REALLY need to hear from you.)


Lieutenant Governor: *Sen. Ron Ramsey (R, Sullivan Co.) 615-741-4524

Deputy Speaker: Sen. Bill Ketron (R, Rutherford Co.) 615-741-6853

Speaker of the House: Rep. Kent Williams (Carter County Republican) 615-741-7450

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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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