The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced Tuesday that the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area located in Cumberland, Morgan, and Fentress Counties will be closed to all public access effective Monday, August 8, 2011. TWRA officials believe this closure is necessary to ensure the safety of visitors using Catoosa WMA and agency employees working on the area.
Some have described the situation as "Hog Wars," after the Agency recently passed a sweeping policy to try and eliminate wild hogs across Tennessee, including Catoosa WMA.
Apparently an avid hog hunter, or hunters, are basically committing acts of terrorism on Catoosa WMA. TWRA officials believe this vandalism may be a reaction by a small group of individuals dissatisfied with the recent changes in the management of wild hog populations on Catoosa, and across the state.
Wildlife officials say wild hogs are becoming a nuisance across the state. They completely closed the hunting season, believing that some hunters were illegally transporting wild hogs from other states and releasing them in Tennessee. Public hunting for the animals is closed, however landowners with nuisance hogs can allow specially-permitted hunters to try and eliminate the animals with virtually no regulation. TWRA also committed to reducing wild hog populations on all state wildlife areas except for the Cherokee National Forest.
Hog Hunts have been historically held on Catoosa for decades. TWRA officials say since late June some people apparently unhappy with the new regulation and policy, have placed nails, spikes, and nail-boards in fields, secondary roads, and trails on the WMA.
According to Kirk Miles, TWRA Region 3 Wildlife Program Manager, as part of the overall strategy to address the increasing wild hog population on the Cumberland Plateau, an aggressive program to trap and remove wild hogs was initiated on Catoosa WMA in early June. Shortly thereafter, employees began finding nails and spikes in fields and along secondary roads accessing wild hog trap sites.
“Initially, we felt that we were able to effectively find and clean up the vandalized sites,” Miles said. “However, the problem has escalated to the point that we no longer feel the area is safe for public use.”
To date 13 tires have been damaged on TWRA trucks used on the WMA, ten of the tires had to be replaced. Four tractor tires have had flat tires repaired. One TWRA employee narrowly escaped serious injury when he stepped on a large nail.
According to Jim Lane, Catoosa WMA Manager, the vandalism has affected normal operations on Catoosa.
“We have found nails and spikes of different sizes, from two inch nails to ten inch spikes. We have also found homemade nail-boards designed to be driven into the ground,” Lane said. “They are not easy to find. Basically, we are forced to use metal detectors and cover large areas. It is labor intensive and takes a lot of time to find and clear vandalized locations.”
Fortunately, damage to non-agency vehicles has been confined to one individual who had two tires flattened after traveling on a secondary road. TWRA employees were able to assist the man who was traveling with his three children.
Although there are currently no hunting seasons open on Catoosa, the WMA is still heavily utilized by various users including horseback riders, hikers, and fishermen.
“We are very concerned with the immediate safety of current users on the WMA,” said Miles. “Also, squirrel and deer hunting seasons are just around the corner and that is when the WMA is most heavily utilized.”
Squirrel season opens on Aug. 27. Asked if the area could reopen before that date, Don King, TWRA Chief of Information said, "There's a good chance that could happen."
TWRA will use the closure period to find and remove as much of the dangerous material as possible. According to Miles, Catoosa WMA is approximately 80,000 acres of field and forest habitat. Cleanup efforts will focus on fields, secondary roads, and trails.
“We have a lot of ground to cover,” Miles said. “We will re-open Catoosa as soon as we can be reasonably assured it is safe. I am hopeful that we can reach that point sometime before our first deer hunt in October to allow small game and deer hunters the opportunity to hunt and scout the area.”
TWRA is offering a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of parties responsible for this vandalism.
Kind did not know if Agency has requested assistance from any other law enforcement agency or not. He did say there are no suspects at this time.
To provide any information relevant to this case please call 1-800-241-0767.
This homemade nail-board, designed to be driven into the ground, was well hidden in a secondary road on Catoosa WMA.
- Photo2 by TWRA