I'm not sure that travesty is too strong a word.
Wildlife should be managed by trained, professional managers and biologists. Being a hunter or angler and a friend of the Governor, are not sufficient qualifications.
Once again, our wildlife commission, the TFWC, has changed existing regulations despite the recommendation of the trained professionals. And how they did it is the worse than what they did.
It is wrong. It is wrong any way you look at it. We deserve better. And it has been going on a long time. Finally, someone besides me has had enough. There needs to be, must be some changes made in our TFWC, the group that oversees, and often overrides, our game and fish biologists. Their latest blunder came to light when they approved, against the recommendations of the biologist, increasing the number of elk tags and lengthening the season on elk. I'll get to that in a minute. But what surfaced, is this.
"TFWC is the 13-member, politically-appointed body that governs the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and sets all hunting and fishing regulations in the state.
TWRA staff biologists recommended continuing elk hunts as it has been in recent years, issuing five archery tags, five gun tags (one sold at auction) and one youth tag. Each hunt was for five days (Monday thru Friday).
However Dist. 1 Wildlife Commissioner Chad Baker made a motion to increase the number of tags provided to seven archery tags, seven gun tags (one sold at auction) and one youth tag. Baker also proposed seven-day hunts versus five-day hunts. Hunters will still be assigned specific areas on the state wildlife management area, however they will also be allowed to hunt private land within the entire elk hunting zone (with permission)."
When the TFWC votes on a matter, it is a voice vote -- "yea" or "nay". Only if a commissioner asks for it is there a roll call vote. What does this mean? It means a great deal and it is just wrong. It means, you and I have no idea how our representatives voted on any matter. It means the vote may not even be accurate. It means there is no accountability. It means a commissioner may abstain and no one knows it. Yes, I'll explain that.
The chairperson says, all in favor "Yea". All opposed "Nay". Gavel falls, motion is passed or defeated...unanimously, next business. It goes in the book as unanimous. I want to know how every single commissioner voted. It is my right to know. They represent me. They represent you.
Let's take it a step farther. It is a voice vote. Let us just assume of the 13 members, seven are opposed, six are in favor. But the six are louder than the seven.
Since no count is taken, measure is defeated. It is a simple a shouting contest.
Thirteen members-four in favor-four opposed and five abstain. No count taken, what happens? Loudest group wins and it is counted as unanimous. That is just not right. A member may abstain just because he does not want to come out against a measure that is already rubber stamped.
Commissioner Bill Swan, admitted he did just that when they voted on the reclassifying buck deer back in 2015. "There probably would have been a couple 'No' votes including me. But it was clear the measure was going to pass." He said. "I did not say 'Nay', I just didn't vote." Every vote, every single one, should be a roll call vote. No if, ands or buts. Especially true on critical issues such as buck limits, elk limits and little things like closing Lock Five to hunters.
So what about the elk? First some recent history. Just four years ago, we had one of the best wildlife program in the country. Now, it is a laughing stock.
If an existing regulation, one in place is working, there are only two reasons to change it.
(1) A clear, scientific, biological or ecological need. The whim of a commissioner or a special interest group is not enough. Then, once that has been established,
(2) Meets the approval of the majority of sportsmen. If it is needed, do it. If it does no harm and the majority want it, do it. Otherwise, you do not change what is working. But how do we know what the majority want? The majority of hunters cannot attend a meeting and do not know how, when or where to email their feelings.
Deer season 2015-16. The buck bag limit was reduced from three to two. Was there a scientific/biological need? No. Did it meet with approval of the majority of hunters? No. But, with a voice vote, the commission made the change. But that is not the worst. Deer Season 2016-17.
Now, with a two buck limit, (one that really did not hurt or help anything biologically but it did limit hunter opportunities,), the antlerless deer category is abolished and a buck is now any deer with antlers protruding above the hairline. That one measure, that change, is probably the greatest boost to poaching and false data of any made in two decades.
On closely controlled, private land, it is great. On open, public, state land, it is horrible joke. Previously law-abiding hunters, accidentally became poachers with one squeeze of the trigger. It passed by a voice vote...unanimously. Here are the results of that change in how a buck is classified.
Following are examples of which I am aware:
(1) Hunter has killed two bucks. The biggest buck he has ever seen walks by and he shoots him. He then, has a friend check it in.
(2) three hunters make a mistake and shoot bucks thinking they are does. (A quite common occurrence.), Hunter #1- He simply skins and quarters deer in the woods and checks the meat in as a doe. Hunter #2- Just walks away and leaves the deer in the woods. Hunter #3- Takes the deer home, skins and butchers it and does nothing in terms of checking it in. I have no idea how many times this happened across our state. Think what that does to the data. Here is what a person, who should be in the know and shall remain nameless, said.
Comm. Statement -- as written: "Many hunters commented and lobbied hard to change the rule back to the previous definition. However biologists recommended staying with the current regulation and commissioners took no action to overturn the measure."
Translation: Most hunters are still p----d and want to return to the old definition of a buck. As this is not what the commissioners want, TWRA appointed one of its' biologist to "spin doctor" the issue and develop a politically benign (although biologically flawed) reason to continue with the current definition."
The commission and even hunters, need to understand, you simply cannot manage wildlife state-wide as you would on closely controlled, private land. It can't be done. And with commission meetings held in locations and at times the majority of hunters cannot attend, the commission makes changes before hunters have a chance to be heard...or the commission ignores their input. One reliable anonymous source, told me some "data" was manipulated to give the commission, "what they wanted". I believe there is data that would prove this to be the case.
So comes the elk brouhaha. Elk biologist recommended we wait a year. That was ignored. By a voice vote, the number of elk tags were increased from 11 to 15.
The two seasons, bow and rifle, were extended from five days to seven.
Does that really hurt anything? No. That isn't the point. The point is, sound, biological protocols were not followed. A group of people just decided to do something and they did it. And they have been doing it since the days of "Golden Goose", Tom Hensley and the Lock Five land theft. One commissioner does a little back porch lobbying of his friends on the commission and a proposal is passed before it ever gets voted on. That is politics, not wildlife management.
The chairperson of the TFWC is Jamie Woodson, says she lives in Lebanon. What are her qualifications?
She is a career politician, former state senator and says, she likes to fish and duck hunt. Well, I know a heck of a lot of folks who like to fish and duck hunt and I don't want them on the commission. Why, would any politician be qualified to be on a wildlife commission or want to? The job pays nothing. That tell you anything. Why cannot a group of educated, trained biologists manage our game and fish?
Why, do we need a commission? Sportsmen and women of Tennessee, it is time to stand on our hind legs and say, "NO! I'm fed up and I'm not going to stand for it anymore."
Of course, that's just my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree, let the TFWC know how you feel about the way things are done.
Our commissioner is Jamie Woodson. You can contact her at: 1454 N. Dickerson Chapel Rd, Lebanon, TN 37087 or call at 615/727-1545 or cell phone 865/385-1930. Her email is Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
She represents the following counties: Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, Davidson, Franklin, Lincoln, Marshall, Moore, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, and Wilson.