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TWRA adjusting to changes and challenges

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

It's called a "Strategic Plan" and it will change the way Tennessee's wildlife resources have been managed for the past 65 years.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Executive Director Ed Carter laid out the plan to the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission during last week's regular monthly meeting, saying it is "a road map to where we want to go."

With most of the state's game species in good shape (deer and turkey populations are at an all-time high) the TWRA plans to shift from restoration to maintenance, while dealing with growing "multi-use" demands for outdoor resources.

When the Tennessee Game & Fish Commission was formed by legislative act in 1949, there was no organized management of hunting and fishing. Many game species hovered on the brink of extinction, and protecting and restoring them was the No. 1 priority.

In 1952, 35 turkeys were harvested state-wide; today around 30,000 are killed each spring out of a flock of around 300,000.

In the early 1950's, deer were so scarce that just spotting tracks was a big deal; today the state's herd is between 650,000-750,000 and in 2004 a record 179,542 whitetails were bagged.

In addition to its deer and turkey restorations, the TWRA also returned wild elk to the state, and built the herd to where it can now sustain limited hunting.

The Agency protects and promotes some 400 non-game species, and it's boating division is charged with patrolling the state's 500,000 acres of impoundments and 19,000 miles of streams.

It also administers such programs as Hunter Education and numerous youth-oriented activities, and has an extensive (and expensive) land-acquisition program, constantly adding to the one million acres it owns and another one million that it leases/manages.

It does all of that on an annual budget of $92 million, with a mere 690 full-time employees. Almost all of the TWRA's budget comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and related revenue. The TWRA receives no public tax dollars.

Most of the duties preformed today by the TWRA didn't exist when the Game & Fish Commission was formed 65 years ago. The G&F Commission dealt strictly with hunting and fishing issues, mostly involving law enforcement and game restoration.

In 1974 the TWRA evolved from the Game & Fish Commission, with a mission makeover intended to handle changing demands. The revised agency would oversee wildlife resources in general, not just hunting and fishing, along with a boating division.

Now it has reached another junction, and again must adjust to changing times and challenges that didn't exist in 1949 or 1974.

"One of the biggest issues we face is 'multi-use'," Carter says. "About five million people participate in outdoor activities in Tennessee, but less than two million hunt and fish."

"We have to change some of our approaches," says Daryl Ratajczak, the TWRA's Chief of Wildlife & Forestry, "while making sure we continue to look out for our core constitutes  of hunters and fishermen."

The success of the TWRA and its predecessor, the Game & Fish Commission, has been phenomenal. Without them, "hunting and fishing as we know it today would not exist," says Fisheries Chief  Bobby Wilson.

Now the TWRA is preparing to maintain its past success as it maps out a new future.

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