Dr. Liane Russell

Liane Brauch (Lee) Russell has studied mammalian genetics for more than 45 years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biology Division. Along with her late husband, Bill, Lee received the International Roentgen Medal. They both were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of only 11 couples so honored.

In the mid-60s, Lee developed a keen appreciation for the river gorges of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau and organized a grassroots environmental advocacy group, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning (TCWP). In 1966, when plans were aired to dam the Obed River, Lee, Bill and TCWP mounted an aggressive, and ultimately successful, campaign to keep this river system free flowing. By researching information, publicizing it in the media, working with federal and state agencies and gaining the ear of legislators, they managed to secure designation of a National Wild and Scenic River for the Obed River in 1976.

Similarly, after helping to defeat an even larger dam proposal for the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, Lee won a National River & Recreation Area designation for the 125-acre Big South Fork in 1974.

Lee played a lead role in the drafting and passage of Tennessee’s State Scenic Rivers Act, which is the first such act in the United States, as well as in the development and designation of the 11-mile North Ridge Trail in Oak Ridge as a Federal and State Recreation Trail. She also played a primary role in the passage of the State Natural Area Act, and the designation of Frozen Head as a State Park and Natural Area. Over the years, she has led the charge on strip-mining issues such as state and federal bills and Land Unsuitable for Mining Petitions (LUMP).

Lee is very much aware that laws and administrative designation are not sufficient in themselves to get an area truly protected. She has kept up with the subsequent implementations by working on issues such as acquisition funding, development of management plans and protection of the upper watershed. She has also been very much involved in behind-the-scenes work on water quality regulations and state park management.

As a diligent officer in the newly formed TCWP, Lee organized meetings and annual weekend, handled publicity and communications with members. One of her innovations was to organize several inter-group conferences, which later morphed into the Tennessee Environmental Council. Another was to instigate letter-writing socials at which invitees wrote needed letters to legislators. She also started an annual publication of a detailed political guide. From the inception of TCWP, she has edited and largely written the regionally respected TCWP newsletter now at No. 283. This newsletter provides balanced research, information and action calls on the environmental issues of the day.

Lee, and her husband Bill, also undertook a personal conservancy effort by purchasing fragile lands in the Cumberland and then donating them to land conservation groups for perpetual protection. Three tracts, totaling 233 acres, were donated to The Nature Conservancy, and a strict conservation easement on another 155 acres was donated to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.

Through her work, more than 150,000 acres of land and more than 120 miles of river are permanently protected from adverse development in the Cumberlands. Because of her efforts on strip-mining, many of Tennessee’s rivers are spared siltation and acid drainage. Her dedication, passion and tenacity have helped protect lands and water to make them available for generations to come.