Sportsmen Take Aim at Bill to Abolish TWRA

"Hopefully the bill won't go anywhere.... "

Thursday, March 6, 2008 - by Richard Simms

Sportsman across the state of Tennessee are taking aim at what has been called "an ill-conceived, ridiculous bill" that would abolish the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

In summary, House Bill 2856 "creates the division of wildlife resources within the Tennessee department of environment and conservation, abolishes the Tennessee wildlife resources agency, (TWRA) and transfers all duties, responsibilities, and functions of the TWRA to the division of wildlife resources (under the Dept. of Environment and Conservation)."

The bill designates that funds from hunting and fishing licenses would go to Tennessee's general fund rather than being designated specifically for funding wildlife and fisheries programs.

The bill is scheduled to be heard next by the House Wildlife Subcommittee, but it has not been put "on notice," which means it has not been scheduled for discussion or a vote.

The Wildlife Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Joe McCord (R - Maryville), a strong supporter of TWRA. However, the subcommittee's vice-chair is Rep. Willie Borchert (D - Camden) who has been very outspoken against TWRA on numerous occasions.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Sherry Jones (D - Nashville).

Rep. Jones said, "TWRA has no oversight whatsoever... I don't think the people of Tennessee want an agency with no oversight."

Of course supporters counter that TWRA does have oversight from the Wildlife Commission.... 13 men and women appointed by the Governor, House and Senate leaders on staggered terms who are directly responsible for overseeing the operation of Tennessee wildlife staff.

"The Commission system is fine as far as it can go," said Rep. Jones. "But (TWRA) staff members are only going to tell Commissioners what they want them to know. The Commissioners don't always get the information they need to know."

Rep. Jones' bill has fourteen co-sponsors, including Rep. Borchert.

TWRA Asst. Director Ron Fox said, "Hopefully the bill won't go anywhere. But there are a number of legislators who have signed on. We treat it as a bill that would have serious consequences to the Agency and sportsmen."

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF), a private conservation group which plays legislative watchdog for hunters and fishermen across the state will be actively campaigning against the bill.

TWF Executive Director Mike Butler said, "This bill is so terribly short-sighted and poorly written that it has (mistaken) references to the Department of Education written into it. It's obvious that author of the bill did not work very hard to write it."

As for any mistaken references to the Dept. of Education, Rep. Jones said, "TWRA is trying to nitpick the bill... our legal department draws up the legislation. Typographical errors always occur in nearly every piece of legislation and they're always corrected as bills work their way through committee. They're just looking for things to nitpick."

Butler went on to say, "It appears that this just may be an election-year stunt and several sportsmen have expressed anger to TWF that elected officials would waste time and money on such a ridiculous proposal."

Rep. Jones said her bill has nothing to do with the sportsmen of the state. She says it is simply intended to rein in an agency she says is out of control.

"TWRA has to prove to us all the good things they've done," she said. "How they've managed their money... and how they have provided good service to all the people of the state ... and they can't do that."

Butler says, "This bill would cost the State of Tennessee millions of dollars in lost federal funding that comes to TWRA. This is a perfect example of why we need (to maintain) an independent TWRA governed by a wildlife commission. It is unfortunately all too obvious that these elected officials clearly do not understand the ramifications of what they say they support by signing on to this legislation. We would strongly encourage all sportsmen to contact their elected officials and voice their opposition to House Bill 2856."

Rep. Jones said it is up to her to put the bill "on notice" to move it forward in subcommittee. She said, "When I get free moment I'll put it on notice. I've got about 20 bills next week. It's not one of them."

TWF maintains a group called the "Camo and Casting Coalition." Butler says the group has grown to become "5,000 strong and is having significant influence across the state."

Click HERE to learn more about the coalition, including access to a "Legislative Action Center" where you can find and contact your legislative representatives and share your opposition, or support, for the bill.

No legislators from Southeast Tennessee have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation.

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