Tag Archives: wildlife

Advancing bills increase penalties for killing some animals, allow allow slayings in self-defense

The House Agriculture Subcommittee has approved separate bills on killing wildlife — one increasing penalties for illegally taking some animals and another declaring protected species can be slain in self-defense.

The self-defense bill (HB135), as amended in the subcommittee, basically mirrors state law on use of lethal force in self-defense against people, said sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, including the so-called “castle doctrine.”

The measure was inspired, Faison said, by his killing of a copperhead snake in his yard after finding the poisonous reptile while nine children were playing in the area. A report on the episode was posted on Facebook and a friend then advised him — accurately, to his surprise after researching the matter, Faison said — that he was in violation of state law by killing the snake and subject to prosecution for a misdemeanor offense.

As introduced, the bill would have applied to slaying wildlife in protection of property as well as people. But the property-protection provision was deleted — with Faison’s approval — after subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, said he and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials were “nervous” that the provision could lead to people “shooting things left and right,” then contending they were trying to protect property in some way.

At one point in the debate, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, asked Faison: “If I’m in my car and that snake shows up, is it OK to kill it?” He noted that the “castle doctrine” in Tennessee has been expanded by the General Assembly to cover self-defense shootings while a person is in a motor vehicle as well as in a home.

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

The penalty-enhancing proposal by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, authorizes judges to order anyone illegally killing a deer, bear, wild hog, wild turkey or an elk to pay “restitution” to TWRA. In general, current law sets the minimum fine at $200 for such offenses, though the offender can be subject to other penalties including seizure of any weapons and equipment involved.

Marsh’s bill (HB1185) would add to current law restitution of $1,500 for a male bear; $3,000 for a female bear. For deer and wild turkeys, a basic restitution of $1,000 would be established. But for male deer, the proposal sets up a point system — the more points a buck has, the higher the restitution. For bucks with up to 10 points, it’s $500 per point; for those with more than 10 points, it’s $750 per point. For elk, the minimum restitution would be $1,500.

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 practice of euthanasia for wildlife pets criticized

Enforcement of the state’s law prohibiting possession of wild animals as pets – they’re typically killed after being seized by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency – has come under increasing attack, reports the Chattanooga TFP, providing details of recent raccoon seizures and the trauma suffered by those who had taken the animals in.

“Other states don’t have this extreme regulatory scheme,” said Chris Jones, a Chattanooga attorney who specializes in wildlife law. “Tennessee is made fun of, just how Draconian it is.”

Jones has likened the TWRA to the Gestapo. Others have called Tennessee’s wildlife laws “communist,” and the agency that enforces them “over the top.”
Here, residents aren’t allowed to take any native species from the wild, not even turtles, said David Favre, a professor at the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law.

Many other states, such as Kentucky and Missouri, have a more moderate approach. Those states allow residents to keep many of the species outlawed in Tennessee.
Snakes, raccoons and turtles are the most common animals that the TWRA takes. They have also taken away people’s pet skunks, squirrels and even vultures. The five-year tally of 266 includes a few seizures of large collections of animals, the biggest being the 53 poisonous snakes that the TWRA took from pastor Andrew Hamblin’s serpent-handling church in LaFollette last year.

In another high-profile case last year, the TWRA took away YouTube celebrity Mark “Coonrippy” Brown’s dancing raccoon, Rebekah.

“Innocent people have been abused by [the TWRA], and it all links to this individual,” said Jones the attorney, arguing that (Walter) Cook, the TWRA gatekeeper to permits, is unfair in his enforcement of the law.

…Cook disagrees. He said Tennessee’s strict laws and rigid enforcement make its captive wildlife program the best in the country. Sitting in his Nashville office among his hunting trophies — mounted fish, tail feathers and an antlered skull — he explained that 23 other states have asked for a copy of Tennessee’s laws to help shape their own.

“It lays out in very clear manner what you can and can’t do,” said Cook. “And not allowing the personal possession of dangerous wildlife is very appealing to most citizens of every state.”

Hunters bag at least 118 sandhill cranes in first open TN season

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee officials say hunters took at least 118 sandhill cranes during the state’s first season, which ended Jan. 1.

Biologists told WTVC-TV (http://bit.ly/KJa3qg) that a handful of additional harvest reports would likely filter in.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Chief of Wildlife Daryl Ratajczak said the state provided 1,200 harvest tags. He says that’s roughly a 10 percent harvest rate.

Hunting was restricted to an area south of Interstate 40 and east of Tennessee Highway 56.

Opponents of the hunt had expressed fears that allowing the hunt might scare the birds away from the Hiawassee Refuge, where they winter, but Ratajczak said there’s no evidence that occurred.

Tennessee resident Tony Sanders said his endeavors to hunt the birds were unsuccessful.

“They are the hardest bird to pattern I’ve ever seen,” Sanders said. “We were hunting an area right beside the refuge. But one day, they would fly one direction, the next day, another. There were about 10 of us hunting the area, and I think we got a total of five birds.”

Ratajczak said state officials will decide later whether to make any changes before the next hunt.

“The zone where we are allowed to have sandhill hunting is set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said. “We did choose to cut back the season length and number of permits that would have been allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So we could potentially increase the number of permits allowed or the season. But there have been no decisions made. That’s something we’ll be looking at.”

TWRA cites snake-handling preacher for illegally keeping reptiles, seizes 50 snakes

LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee preacher who has appeared on national television demonstrating use of snake handling has been cited with possession of venomous snakes.

Media report 50 venomous snakes were seized at Andrew Hamblin’s church, Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette (luh-FAH’-lut). The snakes were being taken to the Knoxville Zoo.

Hamblin, who has appeared on the National Geographic television show “Snake Salvation,” is scheduled in Campbell County General Sessions Court next week.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer Matthew Cameron says TWRA authorities from Knox and Campbell counties asked Hamblin at his home Thursday if he had venomous snakes at his church and he took them there.

He is charged with the misdemeanor of possessing Class 1 wildlife, a species inherently dangerous to humans.

National Wildlife Refuges shutdown, too

News release from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is informing sportsmen that due to the federal governmental shutdown on Oct. 1, several federal public lands have been impacted.

All Tennessee national wildlife refuges, including Tennessee and Cross Creeks, are now closed. The permitted hunts will be canceled and the refuges will be closed to all public use. All refuge boat ramps are closed and refuges are closed to all fishing.

All refuge roads, observation decks, and hiking trails are closed to all access. All refuge offices and visitor centers are closed.

Land Between the Lakes remains open to hunting, back country camping, and hiking. However, all facilities that are normally staffed are closed. The process of evacuating all paid

campgrounds is underway. The visitor centers are closed. Persons in need of a hunting permit will need to purchase those online or at a license agent other than the LBL visitor centers. 
In regard to other areas, Fort Campbell hunting and fishing remains open at this time. Big South Fork is closed to the public. On both the North and South units of the Cherokee National Forest, all gates that are open will remain open although some campgrounds and restroom facilities may not be available.

The closures have come due to the lapse in appropriated funds, affecting all public lands managed by the Department of the Interior (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.). For more information, FAQs, and updates, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

Persons interested in visiting federal lands and facilities are advised to monitor media outlets for further and updated information.

Sandhill Crane Hunting Authorized in TN

From the News Sentinel:
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously agreed Friday to allow limited hunting of the sandhill crane in Tennessee.

Members voted this morning on the second of two days of routine meetings, held at the Holiday Inn on Cedar Bluff Road in West Knoxville.

The vote was not unexpected.

The 14-member commission, responsible for setting Tennessee’s game limits and hunting seasons, was asked to rule on a proposal to stage the hunt beginning in November.

This is the second time in three years that the issue of hunting sandhill cranes has come before commissioners. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency argued for the hunt in 2011, but the proposal raised such an outcry that the vote was tabled to gather more information.

In the early 1990s, a recovering population of sandhills began stopping at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County to rest and feed on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Florida. Today, an average of 23,000 sandhills stay at the refuge all winter.

Biologists estimate the eastern population of sandhills at 87,000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the population has increased to the point where it can sustain limited hunting.

Fifteen states, including Kentucky, allow sandhill crane hunting.

Tennessee’s hunt would be Nov. 28-Jan. 1, with the state issuing three-permit packets to 400 hunters who would be selected by lottery. The refuge would be off-limits to hunting, and hunters would be required to pass a test proving they can differentiate between sandhills and federally endangered whooping cranes that share the same eastern flyway.

Full story HERE.

Haslam Finally Fills Wildlife Commission Vacancy

After the controversial removal of William “Chink” Brown from the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission in February, Gov. Bill Haslam has finally appointed a replacement, reports Nooga.com
David Watson, an executive and part owner of Mountain View Ford Lincoln in Chattanooga, will serve out the remainder of Brown’s term as the District 4 representative on the TFWC. The TFWC is the governing body over the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The 13 members have authority over hunting, fishing and boating regulations in Tennessee.
In the letter notifying Watson of his appointment, the governor wrote, “In the thorough and aggressive search for candidates, your individual characteristics and professional qualifications were exceptional among the number of nominees who expressed interest.”
Watson’s appointment will last until February 2015; however, insiders think it is possible that Watson will be reappointed for another six-year term at that point, although that is not guaranteed.

TWRA Considers Sandhill Crane Hunting Season (again)

The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission — for the second time in three years — is considering a sandhill crane hunting season.
Further from The Tennessean report
If the commission approves the hunting plan at its August meeting, Tennessee would become the 16th state to allow crane hunting. The commission delayed a decision in January 2011.
The central question in the current debate is not whether the sandhill crane population can sustain a level of hunting — biologists on both sides of the issue agree it can — but whether a hunt is the right thing to do given how they attract bird watchers to the state.
Organized hunting groups, led by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, support a sandhill crane season. But the plan has raised concerns among birders, and the Tennessee Ornithological Society says the cranes are too valuable a resource to hunt.
“What we want to see is the opportunity to hunt the cranes but do it in a wise and sustainable fashion and in a way that recognizes and helps promote the viewing opportunities as well,” Mike Butler, the federation’s CEO, told the commission in late June.
Melinda Welton, chairwoman of the Ornithological Society’s conservation policy committee, said Tennesseans oppose hunting the birds, the largest species found in the state. She said by allowing crane hunting, the commission and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which it oversees, risk a major public outcry.
“I think the agency is going to get quite a bit of grief,” she said. “It is a golden opportunity for the agency to gain a lot of goodwill by proclaiming this the most watchable wildlife species in the state and celebrating that.”
The sandhill crane population in Tennessee is estimated as high as 87,000. There are as many as 650,000 of the birds nationwide.