News relelase from TWRA:
NASHVILLE —The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced that Catoosa Wildlife Management Area located in Cumberland, Morgan, and Fentress counties will be closed to all public access effective Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. TWRA officials believe this closure is necessary to ensure the safety of visitors using Catoosa WMA and agency employees working in the area.
Since late June, vandals have placed nails, spikes, and nail-boards in fields, secondary roads, and trails on the WMA. TWRA officials believe this vandalism may be a reaction by a small group of individuals dissatisfied with recent changes in the management of wild hog populations on Catoosa.
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, according to Kirk Miles, TWRA Region III Wildlife Program Manager. 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 2-inch nails to 10-inch spikes,” he said. “We have also found homemade nail boards designed to be driven into the ground.
“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 in the area. 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.”
TWRA will use the closure period to find and remove as much of the dangerous material as possible. Catoosa WMA is approximately 80,000 acres of field and forest habitat. According to Miles, 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. To provide information relevant to this case please call the TWRA Region III Hunting/Fishing Violation Number at 1-800-241-0767.
Note: This comes after the Legislature, in the recent session, approved a new law that takes wild hogs off the list of protected game species. In effect, the law and TWRA rules end hunting of hogs by most hunters, but allow landowners – with up to 10 designated helpers — to treat them as a “nuisance” animal and destroy them in ways that would be illegal for other wildlife. TWRA, meanwhile, is trying to erradicate hobs on its wildlife management areas, including Catoosa.
A full rundown on the wild hogs’ new legal status in Tennessee is available on the TWRA website HERE.
See also Morgan Simmons’ report on the Catoosa situation.