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Press contact: Allen Hershkowitz, 212-727-4466; or Elliott Negin, 202-289-2405
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National Conservation Group Asks Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Provide Federal Assistance to Protect Cumberland Forests

WASHINGTON (March 8, 2005) -- NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today announced that the Cumberland Plateau and the forests of the southern Appalachian and southern Blue Ridge Mountains will remain on the organization's list of BioGems, the most endangered natural places in the Americas. NRDC today appealed to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee to provide federal funding to protect the region.

"Last year NRDC alerted the world to the awful, hidden truth that the biologically outstanding and culturally rare forests of the Cumberland Plateau BioGem are threatened by mounting industrial and commercial pressures," said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, an NRDC senior scientist. "The region's cultural heritage, environmental viability and economic future are at stake. Today, we are asking Senate Majority Leader Frist, who knows firsthand how outstanding these forests are, to give the region the federal attention it deserves."

NRDC's campaign to protect the Cumberland Plateau is part of a larger initiative the organization launched in 2001 to defend exceptional, imperiled ecosystems. Each year, NRDC names 12 BioGems -- unspoiled wildlands in the Americas threatened by development -- and mobilizes citizens to take direct action to protect them. Over the last four years, NRDC's 500,000 online activists have sent more than 5 million messages to corporations and government officials protesting plans to sacrifice some of the Western Hemisphere's last wild and unspoiled places. (For more information about NRDC's 2005 BioGems, click here.)

This year's announcement comes on the heels of Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's "state of the state" address, during which he announced his intention to "start protecting more of our natural resources" and asked "that we start this year [by focusing] on the Cumberland Plateau, one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse places on the planet." The governor lamented that the plateau "is being clear cut [and] vast tracts of land owned by timber companies are on the market, and in many cases are being bought by land speculators from out of state. Nothing good can come of this." Gov. Bredesen then asked the state legislature for $28 million for a Cumberland Plateau foundation and other programs to protect land in the area.

Ultimately hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to assist communities located in the BioGem to protect their forests from clearcutting and conversion to biologically sterile pine plantations, according to an NRDC analysis. NRDC maintains that the economic and cultural value of the forests far outweigh the short-term profits that a few large commercial interests reap from destroying them.

To help defend against the destruction of the forests in Tennessee and the entire Cumberland Plateau BioGem, NRDC today is asking its 1.2 million members and online activists to contact Sen. Frist to urge him to use his leadership position in Congress to help protect the region.

"Since we initially designated the Cumberland Plateau region as a BioGem, we have learned even more about how badly the natural resources in the area are managed," Hershkowitz said. "Unless citizens demand better protection, management and accountability from landowners and government alike, we stand to lose one of the most unique temperate forests on Earth."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
BioGems: Saving Endangered Wild Spaces
BioGems Media Center

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