There’s a piece of bad legislation quietly floating around the state legislature: and I nearly missed it. Apparently, Rep. Sherry Jones [D – Nashville] and Sen. Beverly Marrero [D – Memphis] have introduced a bill to abolish Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
House Bill 2856 creates the division of wildlife resources within the (TDEC) 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).”
Of course, my first thought was… are they freakin’ serious?
Yes, apparently they are.
The bill also 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.
According to TWRA, the federal government prohibits the shifting of wildlife funds into comingled accounts. Such prohibition is found in both the “Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act” and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act.”
Therefore, by plopping the money into the General Fund (aka Phil’s cookie jar) and reorganizing into one big state DNR: we could lose approximately $16,717,100 in federal funds to the state and $1,216,400 from interest earned on the federal funds.
And this is a good plan?
Well, according to Rep. Jones, the bill is to reign in an agency that is out-of-control.
Jones says: “TWRA has no oversight whatsoever…”
Although TWRA does answer to 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) Jones claims:
“(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.”
“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.”
TWRA maintains a budget, do they not? What precisely do Commissioners want to know that they haven’t been told?
And perhaps TWRA’s success isn’t as obvious to Jones as it is to me: but Tennessee boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in America, one of the few growing elk herds and huntable black bear populations. They stock the rivers, lakes and probably the mud puddles with fish and preserve animal habitats.
They enforce state and federal game/wildlife regulations. MORE IMPORTANTLY, they enforce the laws of the lakes and rivers (aka… keep me from getting wiped out at Boomsday by some liquored-up Sailor.) Also, in Hawkins County, the officers usually end up fielding what would normally be considered animal control calls – if you lived in a county with animal control, which I don’t.
Besides, we’ve tried this before. Wildlife resources has been handled by other state departments, including the DEC, in the past. It didn’t work. This is the reason it was established as an independent agency.
So my question is: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
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.