Three Bend Area -- Will it Live Up to the Promise?

In June 1999 Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Bill Richardson announced that long-term management of 3,000 acres on the Oak Ridge Reservation would be granted to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), which would manage it as the Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Refuge Area. Almost 19 months later, in January 2001, DOE and TWRA took an important step toward making this promise a reality when they concluded a management agreement for the area.

Wildlife management in the area -- comprised of Solway, Freels, and Gallaher Bends along the Clinch River (Melton Hill Reservoir) -- was already overseen by TWRA as part of the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area, under a five-year renewable agreement. The new agreement is also for 5 years, but it gives TWRA additional latitude in making wildlife management decisions.

This area is widely recognized by ecologists and conservationists as extremely valuable for wildlife and wildlife-related recreation and education. These three bends present a diverse mosaic of field and woodland with substantial opportunities for enhancement of conservation values and wildlife habitat. The ORNL Reporter described its habitat value in a 1999 article about Richardson's announcement. It was in recognition of these special values that Secretary Richardson proclaimed in June 1999, “From today on, 3,000 acres within the Oak Ridge Reservation's buffer zone will be committed to the pursuit of conservation and wildlife management.”

Much of the delay in reaching an agreement was reported to be due to protracted discussions between DOE (Oak Ridge Operations) and TWRA regarding questions about topics such as financial responsibility and the fate of a number of barns and outbuildings on the proposed refuge.  Some of these structures might be useful for wildlife management, but others (perhaps most) should be removed, salvaged, or destroyed.

Since 2001, the TWRA has made progress with wildlife habitat improvement on the Three Bend area. Fescue on Freels and Solway Bends has been sprayed with herbicide, other areas were bushhogged, prescribed burns were done, and land was reseeded with native grasses and other crops. The areas around barns, structures, and roads have been cleared. The University of Tennessee has been using the area for wildlife classes and ecological research activities.

Conservation management requires a long-term commitment. When the 5-year agreement with TWRA expires in 2006, it should be replaced with a permanent conservation agreement.  However, we anticipate that DOE will be pressured to cancel the arrangement -- or to reduce the three bends to just two bends.  Even at the time of the announcement, there were complaints locally that these public lands should be available for private development (see Oak Ridger story).  Although Richardson proclaimed that the area would be protected "from today on," he is no longer Secretary of Energy, and we are aware of no official record of Richardson's proclamation other than the recorded text of his speech.


Write to federal and state officials (we've listed their addresses) about this matter. Key officials to contact are:

Thank them for making the Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Area a reality. Affirm your support for making this area's protected status permanent. Key points could include: These points would be consistent with Secretary Richardson’s response to a question: “It's permanent. This is for the people of Oak Ridge, for the kids. It's a wildlife preserve, conservation purposes."

Revised August 22, 2005

Find the Three Bend Area on a map of the Oak Ridge Reservation

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