After Controversy, Shakeup At Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Thursday, May 26, 2022 - by Anita Wadhwani, Tennessee Lookout

A shakeup inside the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has led to the abrupt terminations of key leadership staff after a months-long stretch in which the agency drew the ire of of both Republican and Democrat lawmakers over plans to clearcut forests — and lost a major legal fight.

No longer with TWRA as of Monday are Deputy Director Chris Richardson, once considered a candidate to take over the top spot at the agency, Tracey Boyers, who served as general counsel and Thomas Moncrief, associate counsel.

Richardson had been with the agency since 2013,  Boyers since 2007 and Moncrief since 2018, according to TWRA publications.

Their departures follow the retirement announcement last month by Bobby Wilson, the executive director, who will step down from the agency in September.

The trio’s appointments were “expired” by the agency on Monday, a statement emailed by TWRA spokesperson Emily Buck said. The statement did not give a reason for the departures.

Under Tennessee law, “Tennessee State Government Executive Service employees serve at the pleasure of the Appointing Authority and can be suspended, demoted, or dismissed at any time their service is no longer required,” the statement said. “In respect of their privacy, and in accordance with the Tennessee State Department of Human Resources guidance, we will not discuss the details or nature of the expiration of their appointments.

The TWRA serves as the state’s fishing and hunting licensure body and manages 1.6 million acres of public lands across Tennessee. Last fall, a leaked TWRA map revealed agency plans to clearcut 2,000 forested acres in the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area to create grassland habitat for bobwhite quail, whose populations have plummeted in the past half century.

The Tennessee Lookout reported the previously unannounced plans for the popular hunting, hiking and recreation area in White County in October. The plans drew angry pushback — first from residents in the community whose economy relies, in part, on visitors attracted by the area’s natural beauty, and then from lawmakers who criticized the agency’s lack of communication.

Mr. Richardson, who was the legislative liaison before being promoted to Deputy Director last year, served as the key point of contact with lawmakers.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, 34 Republican and Democrat lawmakers urged wildlife officials to immediately halt all clearcutting plans and accused agency leaders of a “shameful lack of communication and transparency with this plan” and of “breaching its duty to protect natural wildlife in Tennessee.”

“You have successfully united Tennesseans from all walks of life against the plan. Republicans, Democrats, hunters, environmentalists, business people and public servants all disagree with TWRA’s plan for public land,” the letter from last January said.

TWRA officials later agreed to put a halt – at least temporarily – to the Bridgestone clearcutting plan, but lawmakers during the legislative session introduced a series of bills to limit the agency’s authority.

One of those measures succeeded: Requiring the agency to follow the same rules as the state’s Departments of Agriculture and Forestry in selling timber harvested on public lands. TWRA, which has long kept the profits from timber sales on pubic lands in its own agency budget, had been criticized for a lack of transparency and accountability in its timber sales.

In March, TWRA lost a court battle over its right to conduct warrantless searches on private property in order to enforce the state’s hunting, fishing and wildlife laws. Boyers, the recently departed TWRA general counsel, served as the attorney in the case, which the state Attorney General’s office is now appealing.

“We are aware that stakeholders are invested in the future of agency programs and activities,” the statement from TWRA on Wednesday said. “The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has worked to preserve, conserve, manage, protect, and enhance the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of Tennessee and its visitors since 1949. TWRA will continue this important work uninterrupted in the coming days.”

---

tennesseelookout.com


2022 Operation Dry Water Returns For July 4th Holiday Weekend

Chattanooga Gas Team Members Help Restore Trout Population To Citico Creek

Dennis Jenkins, 51, Drowns On The Holston River On Wednesday Afternoon


The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be participating in Operation Dry Water, July 2-4. Operation Dry Water is a weekend of education and enforcement about the dangers of impaired ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Gas team members helped reintroduce Southern Appalachian Brook Trout into Citico Creek in the Cherokee National Forrest. Team members transported and released hundreds of young trout ... (click for more)

Dennis Wayne Jenkins, 51, of Ridgefields Road in Kingsport, was found dead in the Holston River following a boating incident that occurred near Christian's Bend boat ramp. TWRA Wildlife ... (click for more)



Outdoors

2022 Operation Dry Water Returns For July 4th Holiday Weekend

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be participating in Operation Dry Water, July 2-4. Operation Dry Water is a weekend of education and enforcement about the dangers of impaired boating throughout the state. Officials said, "The July fourth holiday means an increase in boater activity. TWRA is teaming with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Gas Team Members Help Restore Trout Population To Citico Creek

Chattanooga Gas team members helped reintroduce Southern Appalachian Brook Trout into Citico Creek in the Cherokee National Forrest. Team members transported and released hundreds of young trout back to their native area late last month. This is Chattanooga Gas’ first time participating in the annual event in partnership with Trout Unlimited, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources ... (click for more)

Breaking News

EPA Awarding Brownfield Grant At Site Of Planned Lookouts Stadium

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe on Wednesday is set to present the city of Chattanooga with Brownfield program cleanup and assessment grants at the site of a planned new $79.5 million stadium to be used by the Lookouts. The press conference will be at the U.S. Pipe/Wheland site. The grant is "to help spur economic revitalization ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Couple Describes Frightening Home Invasion

A Chattanooga couple on Friday morning described a frightening home invasion that a Memphis pair are accused of committing. Charges were bound to the Grand Jury against Darion Merriweather and William Edward Farmer IV. Judge Gerald Webb increased the bond for their aggravated burglary charges to $75,000. Farmer and Merriweather are facing two counts of kidnapping, aggravated ... (click for more)

Opinion

22 Questions And Concerns About A New $79.5 Million Lookouts Stadium

The proposal for the Lookouts stadium brings forth several questions that I have not gotten good answers yet from anyone. 1. If the 10 acres Gary Chazen is donating is worth $10,000,000, why doesn’t he and his partners just sell the 140 acres and go to the bank with over $100,000,000? 2. There has been over a billion dollars of new construction in downtown Chattanooga ... (click for more)

New Stadium Does Not Pass The Smell Test - And Response

I can't find any logical reasons that the new Lookout stadium is being placed where it is other than to think it's a combination of favoritism and eliminating an eyesore. All statistics point to an illogical decision coupled with questionable tax breaks/support. Lookouts average attendance in 2018 (all that I could quickly find) was 3,206 per game and ranked 74th among ... (click for more)