The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a new rule for threatened and endangered species, heard presentations on bear management, and saw special presentations made in its final 2023 meeting.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 established protections for fish, wildlife, and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered, and provides a means for adding species to and removing them from the list of threatened and endangered species. The list is renewed every two years.
Josh Campbell, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Biodiversity Division Chief, previewed the rule to establish the state list at the TFWC October meeting, and the Commission voted to approve at the December meeting. There were 27 species removed from the endangered, threatened, or in need of management list. There were 28 species added to the list, bringing the total to 144 species. Twenty-two species were upgraded from species of greatest conservation need. Four new species with no previous designations were added, and two species were adopted as the result of federal delisting.
Once it receives final approval by the Tennessee General Assembly, the list will include 31 endangered species, up six from the 2021 list. Threatened species stand at 47, 14 additional since 2021. In need of management species are down 19 from the previous list for a total of 66 species. The list will be available on the TWRA website and will guide wildlife management and conservation efforts in the state.
Bill Stiver, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) discussed Cooperative Bear Management and the results of a research project the park is completing. In recent years, the park has fitted relocated bears with GPS radio collars to assess survival and movement of bears after release.
Dan Gibbs, Black Bear Coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, discussed how the GSMNP research results can assist with the Agency’s goal of implementing proactive approaches to reduce human-bear conflicts. He provided results from a public opinion survey that showed 93 percent of the public enjoys that bears exist and are important to the ecosystem. It also showed that 88 percent were aware that bears take advantage of unconventional food sources, 76 percent believe preventative action is needed, 69 percent approve of laws and ordinances, and 88 percent approve of laws prohibiting intentional feeding. He also discussed steps the city of Gatlinburg is taking which include the addition of 460 new bear-proof dumpsters.
TWRA Region IV Fisheries Manager Jim Habera provided an update on Southern Appalachian brook trout restoration. The Southern Appalachian brook trout is Tennessee’s only native trout and has faced declines, primarily due to deforestation and introductions of non-native trout. Goal 1 of restoration and enhancement is to increase distribution by 13-15 stream miles by 2027, and 82 percent of the goal has already been completed.
TWRA also presented a check for $6,000 to Casting for Recovery, a non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of breast cancer patients and survivors through fly fishing events. Each year, the Agency sells pink breast cancer awareness patches and hats to support the organization.
The TWRA Boating and Law Enforcement Division recognized Frankie Turner of Chick-Fil-A of Alcoa for his contributions to safe boating. Mr. Turner donated 4,000 gift cards for TWRA officers to reward boaters who were caught being safe by wearing their life jackets.
The agency also recognized the Hiwassee Chapter of Trout Unlimited for its donation of $7,200 to the Region III Fisheries Program. The generous donation will be used to fund a temporary field technician position to work on native brook trout restoration in the Cherokee National Forest. The chapter has been a long-time partner with the TWRA.