published Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

TWRA strategic plan shifting to habitat focus

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is shifting its emphasis from building and protecting species populations to maintaining habitats and increasing access, and it wants to hear about it from wild people throughout the state.

The agency has unveiled a proposed strategic plan for 2014-20 and is giving the public a chance to comment until Jan. 21. The 80-page document can be downloaded at www.tn.gov/twra, and observations and opinions can be emailed to twra.comment@tn.gov with "strategic plan" in the subject line or sent by traditional mail to Strategic Plan Comments, Att.: Cindy Pharris, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204.

In a news release introducing the proposed plan, the TWRA cites its undeniable success in following the North American Model of Wildlifie Conservation and restoring many species of game and fish from low numbers in the early 1900s to plentiful levels and managing those populations with ample hunting and angling opportunities. White-tailed deer, black bears and wild turkeys are big examples.

"With the onset of healthier fish and wildlife populations, the agency is shifting gears to focus more directly on maintaining the habitats that support those populations," the release says. "The agency also recognizes the need for our citizens to have access to those areas to enjoy our abundant wildlife resources."

The proposed plan lists four "primary functions" of TWRA as (1) wildlife resource management, (2) outdoor recreation, (3) law enforcement and (4) information and education. The agency still intends to "conserve and manage" the "diverse wildlife communities at appropriate levels," but it wants also to "increase opportunities for hunting, fishing and boating and accommodate other outdoor recreation, such as wildlife viewing" in safe and environmentally sound ways.

The introduction to the new strategic plan points out the remarkable diversity of Tennessee's geography and topography from the Appalachian mountain range to the Mississippi River flood plain and the state's accompanying variety of wildlife species.

"Currently there are 325 species of fish, 77 mammals, 56 reptiles, 70 amphibians and 340 birds known to inhabit or migrate through Tennessee," the document says. "The number of invertebrate species, many of which are endemic to Tennessee, is equally impressive with 256 land snails, 99 aquatic snails, over 120 mussels, 87 crayfish and many insects."

It goes on to say that "protecting these diverse habitats and the associated wildlife is a quality-of-life issue for many Tennesseans" and that the "Strategic Plan strives to anticipate and balance the needs of the wildlife and the public."

According to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, Tennessee had 923,000 resident hunters and anglers in 2011, which is nearly 20 percent of the state's population, and two million other "wildlife watchers." Those groups accounted for almost $3 billion in wildlife-related spending that year.

The TWRA owns about 400,000 acres of wildlife management areas, refuges and fishing lakes and also leases or otherwise promotes the use of considerable private property for wildlife recreation. The agency also operates fish hatcheries and stocks some of the state waterways.

According to the proposed plan, "The agency's core function of wildlife resource management is changing its focus to a habitat-first strategy since habitat is the cornerstone of providing healthy populations of animals. ... Species should be self-supporting if given the proper protection."

In the plan, the TWRA lists the wildlife habitats as grasslands, forestlands, wetlands, karst (including caves), streams and rivers, impoundments and urban -- each in several identifiable types. The plan goes through them one by one with issues they face, objectives and strategies. Then it goes into the TWRA's outdoor recreation, law enforcement and information functions projected for the next six years.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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