Tag Archives: TWRA

Fish hatchery pushed as use for surplus revenue

Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton, says he’s hopeful part of the state’s surplus revenue will go toward building a state fish hatchery in Carter County, reports the Johnson City Press, noting the project “has been a political football bouncing around for several years.”

The lawmaker said the time to act on getting fish hatchery approved was now, pointing to a state budget surplus he said could be used on several projects.

He said one of the difficulties in getting legislative support for the hatchery has been its price tag. The cost of the state-of-the art facility has risen from $18 million to $24 million, thanks to inflation.

Holsclaw said that price tag has put a few legislators off, but noted the facility was originally proposed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to be more than a means of keeping some of the most popular streams in the state stocked. It was also intended to be a state-of-the-art facility that would also be a tourist attraction and an education center for students.

The article notes TWRA purchased 19 acres for the hatchery from the City of Elizabethton for $198,000 in 2009.

But the timing was terrible.

The state representative for the district, Kent Williams, had just incurred the wrath of Republicans who had been planning to take over the speakership of the House of the Representatives for the first time since the 1970s. They counted 50 votes to 49 for the Democrats, giving them the majority.

Those plans were dashed when Williams joined with Democrats to elect himself speaker.

In the aftermath, the Republican leadership was not eager to approve a fish hatchery in Williams’ district that would cost as much as $18 million.

Political pundits in Nashville wrote that “fish was the new pork.

…As bad as the timing was in 2009, Holsclaw says the timing was probably the best it could ever be this year. He said there is a budget surplus — and a governor who has expressed support for the project.

“I have been working hard on this,” Holsclaw said.

Deer poachers get TWRA record penalty

Two La Vergne men have been banned from hunting for life in Tennessee and 43 other stats for illegally killing as many as 40 deer, reports The Tennessean. They also allegedly took photos and videos of dead or wounded animals being abused.

Densibel Calzada, 23, and Eddy Albert, 21, received the harshest penalty ever issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“We will never know how many deer these two killed, but we believe they could have poached at least 40,” said TWRA Sgt. Matt Brian. “We charged them with violations based on the strongest evidence we found showing the seriousness of their poaching crimes.”

Search warrants served by TWRA officers on Calzada and Albert’s homes produced cell phones where photos and videos were found of the two disrespecting the animals they had poached.

“They were getting on top of the deer and doing all sorts of things,” said TWRA information officer Doug Markham. “They had one where the deer was still alive and they blew his head off. They were high-fiving each other after showing the hole where they had shot one at nighttime. I didn’t see all of the videos, but the officer said some of it was just really grotesque.”

…Along with the lifetime ban, they also were ordered to pay $1,000 each in court costs, $5,000 in restitution, had their weapons — a rifle and a crossbow — confiscated, must perform 100 hours of community service for the TWRA and were placed on 18 months probation.

“People don’t understand what banning them for life does to them,” Markham said. “It destroys their ability to move around with a gun. If they get caught again, they could go to jail.”

Transfer of Morgan County land to TWRA protested

Morgan County Executive Don Edwards is opposing the planned transfer of 1,753 acres of land adjoining Catoosa Wildlife Management area from private ownership to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources
Agency, complaining the rural county already has too much tax-exempt property, reports the News Sentinel.

More than one of every five acres in Morgan County is already controlled by entities that don’t pay property taxes and it’s time to draw the line, he said. But the State Building Commission has already approved the transfer – a further irritation to Edwards.

“When the state is going to take land off the tax rolls, you’d think they’d notify county officials,” he said. “I would have been there, objecting to the deal.”

Two tracts of property owned by Betty Jane McCartt and Gener M. McCartt, on the property assessor’s books at a value totaling more than $3.2 million, are sought by TWRA.

The property is next to Catoosa and the Lone Mountain State Forest, and TWRA told the Building Commission the land purchase “will allow for conservation of wildlife and other recreation for the public.”

Edwards has a starkly different view. “There’s really no good reason why they (TWRA) wants it other than it’s next to their property and they can add to their dynastic holdings in Morgan County.”

“They want all the property they can get their hands on,” he said.
Morgan County “is a very rural county which lacks economic opportunity for its citizens,” Edwards wrote in a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam protesting the intended purchase. He said the land purchase by the state would “take another $7,000 away in property tax revenues from Morgan County tax payers which they will have to make up with an increase in their property tax rate.”

TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter last month responded to Edwards’ concerns and his letter to the governor, saying in a letter to the county executive that the McCartts “have indicated a clear desire to proceed with selling their property to the state.”

Carter’s missive states that the “McCartt family tried to sell their land on the open market for several years to no avail.”… The planned sale, at 75 percent of the land’s fair market value, “will alleviate their (the McCartts’) growing inheritance tax burden,” Carter wrote. He said TWRA can buy the property “entirely with federal Wildlife Restoration dollars.”

State’s raccoon vaccination program underway

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Raccoons in parts of East and Middle Tennessee will be vaccinated for rabies under a U.S. Agriculture Department program.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says the Agriculture Department will distribute an oral vaccine for selected counties. The vaccine is placed inside a fishmeal block or coated with fishmeal known to attract raccoons and placed in suitable habitat.

Residents should leave the bait alone and instruct children to do the same, but if found where children or pets play, wear gloves and move the bait to a suitable habitat. If a pet consumes the bait, confine the animal and avoid the pet’s saliva for 24 hours, washing any skin that has been licked.

The state says ground crews and aircraft will distribute the vaccine.

Note: The Department of Health news release, including a listing of the counties involved, is below.
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Columnist questions hunting/fishing fee increase after ammo tax windfall

Start of Frank Cagle’s column this week:

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency gets a dime for every box of ammunition sold in Tennessee. You may have heard that since Barack Obama has been president ammo makers have added third shifts to meet the demand as many gun owners have stockpiled the stuff and store shelves are often bare. This has meant a $9.5 million windfall for the TWRA, the agency that regulates hunting, fishing and wildlife management. That’s almost $10 million more than had been budgeted for this year, for a total of $31 million from the feds.

But that hasn’t prevented the agency from increasing the cost of buying a hunting license by almost 20 percent, from $27 to $33. That raises an additional $6 million for TWRA coffers. The extra $9.5 million windfall in ammo sales is half again more than the $6 million fee increase. And somebody needs to find out why they are getting only .09 percent interest on millions of dollars in trust funds.

The appointed commissioners who govern the agency can set license fees at will. They can be vetoed by the Government Operations Committees of the House and Senate, but it requires both committees to agree. The commissioners approved the increase in January, the first in 10 years, but it wasn’t until last week that the issue came before legislative committees. The House committee quickly rubber-stamped it, 7-1.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, a first-term Republican, raised some interesting questions on the Senate side. The federal ammo windfall and the millions of dollars in the TWRA reserve funds made him question why hunters were being asked to pay more. Unfortunately, when the House caved, the Senate vote became moot.

…Bailey pointed out that the TWRA has a reserve fund balance of $33 million in hunting and wildlife and $12.4 million for its boating programs. This money is available for agency operations. There is an additional $43 million in trust funds, and TWRA can use the interest from these funds — about $38,000 last year At less than 1 percent, that return is ridiculously low. That money ought to handled by the state treasurer, who is currently getting returns of over 6 percent. A decent return on the trust funds would be $2.5 million to $3 million in additional revenue, making half of the fee increase unnecessary.

It’s a problem when you have an agency essentially outside the state budget process that is allowed to keep millions in a piggy bank rather than responsibly invested.

Move to block higher hunting and fishing fees fails

An effort to block a 20 percent increase in the cost of state hunting and fishing licenses failed in a legislative committee last week, meaning the higher fees will take effect July 1, as approved earlier by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But members of the Joint Government Operations Committee left open the possibility of revisiting funding for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency operations in future meetings or during next year’s legislative session.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, made the motion to “stay” or block the fee increase, contending TWRA has $103 million in reserve funds and will be getting more money from the federal government than anticipated in the coming year.

Chris Richardson, legislative liaison for TWRA, said only two of the six reserve funds referenced can be used for agency general operations, the others earmarked by state law for specific purposes such as wetlands acquisition or boating safety programs.

The agency had to use $5 million from its operating reserves to balance last year’s budget, leaving about $32 million, and will have to use a similar amount this year, leaving about $27 million when the state fiscal year starts July 1, Richardson said. Almost $10 million will be needed to upgrade TWRA’s communications system and other equipment, leaving around $18 million, he said.

In effect, Richardson said TWRA is operating at a deficit, despite budget cuts, and needs the revenue from higher license fees to maintain the status quo.
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Bill authorizes slaying wild hogs ‘by any means necessary’

Wild hogs cause about $1.5 billion in agricultural damage a year in Tennessee, and lawmakers in three counties want to allow landowners to control them with “any means necessary,” according to the Times-Free Press.

First cousins Riley Frady and Wendell Oakes, two lifelong residents and landowners in northwest Bledsoe County, say the bill being considered in the Tennessee Legislature would help hunters better control the feral pigs that can root up acres of farmland in a night.

“They’re after your seeds and bugs and roots and stuff. They get their food out of the ground,” said Oakes, standing at the sawmill on the family farm on state Highway 30 near Fall Creek Falls State Park.

For many area landowners, Frady is the man to call when wild hogs become a problem. He helped get the measure passed by the Bledsoe County Commission en route to the bill under consideration in Nashville.

If the bill introduced by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and co-sponsored by Sens. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, and Mike Bell, R-Riceville, becomes law, hunters will be able hunt hogs with dogs Bledsoe, Polk and White counties all year around except during deer season. (Note: It’s SB702 and has already cleared committee in the Senate.)

However, the Wild Hog Eradication Action Team, a 24-organization partnership of state agencies and other groups, wants to get rid of the destructive animals but advocates trapping rather than dogs.

Sunday column: Legislators deal with snakes, buzzards and jackasses

You might say state legislators are taking a walk on the wild side in the current session, albeit in somewhat meandering fashion, as they consider a bunch of bills that involve the killing or control of Tennessee critters.

Consider last week’s meeting of the House Agriculture Subcommittee, where the two most notable animal actions were:

n Approval of a bill authorizing the killing of wild animals in self-defense (HB135) at the urging of sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. Faison explained that he was inspired to produce the proposal after killing a copperhead in his yard when a bunch of kids were roaming the premises, then posting about the episode on Facebook — only to have a friend point out he had doubtless violated state law by causing demise of a venomous reptile native to our state. So, having confessed to breaking the law, he set out to provide “some level of protection” to those who, unlike himself, might be prosecuted in the future.

As introduced, the bill would have allowed killing critters when they are threatening property, not just people. That provision was deleted after Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, said it made him — and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency folk — “nervous” about the possibility that “people would just be shooting things left and right” and claiming they were defending something or other.

As amended, the bill mirrors state law on when people can use deadly force against other people, Faison said. Given that law includes a car within its “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” provisions, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, inquired: “If I’m in my car and that snake shows up, is it OK to kill it?”

No, replied Faison, because the car itself would provide a reasonable defense against snakebite. However, “if a bear was reaching through the window,” lethal force would be in order.

n Approved a bill (HB1185) by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, that substantially increases financial penalties for illegally killing a deer, bear, elk or wild turkey.

In the case of deer, elk and bears, the bill is blatantly discriminatory on the basis of gender. Illegally shoot a male bear and the penalty — depicted in the bill as restitution to TWRA — is $1,500 (versus as little as $200 now, regardless of gender); for a female bear it’s $3,000. The discrimination is the other way on deer and elk. Illegally killing or possessing a female deer falls under a general $1,000 penalty — the same as for turkeys (again, up from the current $200). But for antlered male deer, there’s a new point system: $500 for each point of the animal’s antlers for those with eight to 10 points (that’s $5,000 for a 10-point buck) or $750 per point when the deceased deer has more than 10 points on its antlers.

The panel also approved a bill (HB1051) that would allow fox hunters to let their dogs chase foxes in more places, more often. Sponsor Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, remarked that the measure deals with “one of the wackiest bills we have had up here.”

The panel put off until this week approval of a bill, already endorsed by a Senate committee, that would decriminalize the killing of black buzzards in Tennessee, even though they are protected by federal law.

The black buzzards are reportedly preying on newborn calves and even trashing property. Pictures shown to the Senate committee of damage from a Jackson County buzzard attack included shots of deceased buzzards that, it would seem, were dispatched illegally under current laws by a homeowner defending his property from attack.

Also approved was a bill (HB1185) that somewhat liberalizes the rules for chasing foxes with hounds. And domestic animals were not ignored, thanks to the panel’s OK of a bill (HB455) that repeals an 1858 statute declaring that the owner of any ”stallion or jackass over 15 months old” is subject to a $5 fine if it roams onto someone else’s property.

Maybe there’s a trend here. At least insofar as buzzards and snakes go, legislators are moving to declare that laws now being unofficially ignored will become officially ignored. That would be honesty in government and a good thing, right?

Perhaps even setting a precedent into areas involving activities of the species Homo sapiens.

That’s not likely, though. Our species is much better represented in Legislatorland than the wild side. There are no lobbyists for buzzards, foxes and snakes — at least not literally.

Note: This is a slightly revised version of a column written for the News Sentinel, also appearing HERE.

Committee-approved bill legalizes killing federally-protected buzzards in TN

A state Senate committee has voted to legalize the killing of black buzzards in Tennessee even though they are protected under federal law.

Approval of SB204 by the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee came after Charles Hord, executive vice president of the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association, described how the vultures are killing newborn calves across the state and Sen. Paul Bailey displayed photographs showing buzzard damage at a Jackson County home.

“They’re not only destroying livestock. They’ve begun destroying personal property,” said Bailey, R-Sparta.

He said the black buzzard attack, which homeowner James Meadows and his family discovered after returning from a weekend vacation, caused damage totaling more than $25,000 as estimated by an insurance adjuster — more if uninsured damage was included.

The buzzards had “begun to eat” the plastic seat covers of a motorcycle and a jet ski, wrecked swimming pool equipment, ripped out insulation and even pecked away parts of the brick beneath windows and the paint on a parked car, the senator said.

“No one can explain why they had actually attacked his house,” said Bailey, adding that he and others had initially “chuckled” at the idea of a scavenger species assaulting a home before seeing documentation.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, repeals a current state law that makes it a misdemeanor crime “for any person to disturb the habitat of, alter, take, attempt to take, possess, or transport a black vulture, also known by the name Coragyps atratus.”
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TWRA proposing 22 percent increase in hunting, fishing license fees

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is proposing increases in the cost of hunting and fishing licenses and related fees, averaging about 22 percent. The proposal comes up for a vote at a Jan. 15-16 meeting of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission at Union City.

The basic annual resident hunting and fishing combination license would increase from $28 to $34 under the proposal. The annual resident “sportsman’s license” – which covers all permits otherwise needed at different fees for activities ranging from big game hunting, trout fishing, duck hunting, wildlife management area admission, archery hunting and the like – would increase from $136 to $166.

In a news release (HERE) TWRA notes the increase is the first since 2005 (when there was a 35 percent increase) and the second in 25 years. It’s needed because the agency’s costs have increased even though it has been reducing staff and taking other economy measures.

Excerpt from the release:

“The reality is that managing our wildlife and fisheries has never been more expensive than it is today,” said TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter. “Our objective with this proposal is to spread the cost of these programs across more user groups who utilize Tennessee’s public lands and waters.”

…If approved, the new fee structure would go into effect on July 1, 2015. Tennessee hunting and fishing licenses expire on Feb. 28, and new licenses will be on sale at the current prices from mid-February through the end of June.

Highlights include: incremental increases for resident hunting and fishing licenses; elimination of certain short-term non-resident licenses; a new fee for professional hunting and fishing guides; new senior citizen license options; and fees related to the use of TWRA firing ranges, as well as for horseback, off-highway vehicle and mountain bike riders whose activities have a maintenance impact on state Wildlife Management Areas.

A full list of the existing old fees and the new proposed fees is HERE.