Friction Grows Between TWRA and Legislators

Are legislators dropping a big hint to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency?

The TWRA is unlike other state agencies, which are subject to a commissioner and the governor; it is governed by a board called the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission—an entity that is currently in "wind down" to extinction.

There has always been tension between the TWRA and the Legislature. Back in the day, legislators used to monkey with hunting seasons, bag limits, and other hunting and fishing regulations in response to their constituents' concerns. The commission was set up to make the department independent—funded by hunting and fishing licenses, it was less subject to legislators.

But the tension between TWRA and the House Conservation and Environment Committee has been building. Appointees to the commission aren't often wildlife experts—they're usually big contributors to gubernatorial campaigns, and a seat on it is considered a political plum second only to a seat on the board of the University of Tennessee.

Like all state commissions, the TWRA Commission was due to sunset this year, meaning it was up to be reauthorized to continue in existence. It was not. It is now in "wind down," which means it has to be reauthorized next session or it will disappear, and the wildlife agency will go back to being governed by a commissioner in the governor's cabinet.

It will likely be reauthorized next session, but some legislators wanted to send a message to the agency that they ought to pay more attention to public input—and to legislators.