Wildlife Action Plan & Network

A lonely road with no wildlife is imminent if something isn't done to preserve our wildlife today.Wildlife professionals throughout the United States have long struggled with a problem that will seem familiar to almost everyone-the desire to do what needs to be done and the money to accomplish the task.

In another era, the passenger pigeon, which once filled the sky with untold millions of birds, disappeared from America because few people of that generation understood the importance of one plump-and tasty-bird. More recently, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and American alligators came perilously close to extinction, but public attitudes had changed since the days of the passenger pigeon and enough people-particularly those in positions of power-did care.

In 1937, Congress recognized the need for long-term dependable funding for state wildlife agencies and passed the Wildlife Restoration Act. Also known as the Pittman-Robertson (PR) Act, the law imposed a 10 percent manufacturers tax on hunting ammunition and firearms. Tax proceeds are distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies for research, habitat protection, hunting and recreation and species recovery.

In 1950 the Sport Fish Restoration Act-also called the Dingell-Johnson (DJ) Act-placed a 10 percent manufacturers tax on fishing rods, reels, and tackle to be distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies for sport fish restoration. In addition, the Wallop-Breaux Amendment was passed in 1984 expanding the Sportfish Restoration Act to include boating and angling gear. These additional funds support boating access and aquatic education programs.

Generating approximately $450 million annually, PR and DJ funds-along with the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and permits-have been the backbone of state game and sportfish management programs. Historically, PR funds have been instrumental in the recovery of whitetail deer and wild turkey, and most recently, the reintroduction of elk to Tennessee. Likewise, DJ funds are utilized for such programs as trout stocking, largemouth bass and crappie management and stream surveys.

While American sportsmen have traditionally supported game and sportfish management programs, the vast majority of Tennessee's wildlife is neither hunted nor fished, and a dependable funding source for non-game programs has been harder to sell. Funds from the Endangered Species Act helped to recover such well-known species as the bald eagle but there are many more non-game species in dire need of help.


The Evolution Of TWRA Wildlife Action Plan

In the early 1990s a national movement called "Teaming With Wildlife" (TWW) was initiated to lobby Congress for long-term funding for non-game wildlife species. Like PR and DJ monies, TWW funds were to be gathered through an excise tax on outdoor recreational equipment such as camping gear and binoculars. Although TWW had widespread support, creating a new excise tax hindered the movement's progress.


Teaming With Wildlife was retooled into the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA.) Under CARA, funds derived from offshore oil royalties would be used to fund management activities benefiting non-game wildlife. CARA passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. Since then, however, Congress has provided annual appropriated funds for activities surrounding "species of conservation need," first through the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program (WCRP) and now through the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program. Since the SWG program went into effect in 2001, Tennessee has received more than $4 million, which has been used for such projects as warm season grass seed harvesters, water control structures, and educational material. These funds have also helped the TWRA create grassland songbird habitat, develop databases and buy land.

As a part of the SWG program, each state was asked to produce a detailed plan Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) identifying species of greatest conservation need, their habitat, threats, conservation actions and more.

A team of TWRA wildlife biologists, with assistance from The Nature Conservancy, the nation's leading conservation planning organization, spent 18 months developing Tennessee's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The development of the plan became the largest single planning effort the TWRA has ever undertaken. It was a particularly challenging task since Tennessee is considered to be the most biologically diverse state without a coastline boasting seven of the eight most ecologically rich rivers in North America; more than 325 species of fish, ranking the state first among all states in freshwater fish diversity; more than 300 species of birds; 89 mammals; 70 amphibians; 61 reptiles; and more than 2,300 varieties of plants. The process was further complicated by Tennessee's diversity of habitats ranging from the remnants of Ice Age forests in the highest elevations of the Appalachians to the rich bottomlands of the Mississippi River. Since wildlife populations, obviously, do not recognize state boundaries, coordination between neighboring states is also essential. And because Tennessee has approximately 9,000 documented caves, the TWRA planning team was also required to consider these subterranean habitats.


The Purpose of the TWRA Wildlife Action Plan

At the heart of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy is the identification of Tennessee's "species of greatest conservation need." Special consideration was given to species that are endemic to the state or a particular ecological region of the state, are especially vulnerable to extirpation, or exhibiting declining trends either range wide or within specific areas of the state. The Tennessee team, led by TWRA biologists Chris Hunter, Pandy English, Kirk Miles, Mark Thurman, Mark Fagg, David Rudisal from Federal Aid and Planning, and TWRA Non-game Coordinator Richard Kirk, identified more than 600 species ranging from birds, fish and mammals to snails, mussels and insects as fitting the CWCS profile. Included in this list are such familiar bird species as bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, Mississippi kites, red-headed woodpeckers and whip-poor-wills; reptiles like the timber rattlesnake, the alligator snapping turtle and the Eastern bog turtle; such mammals as the Appalachian cottontail, red squirrel, least weasel and a variety of bat species; and aquatic species such as the lake sturgeon, the paddlefish, and the infamous snail darter that figured so prominently in the legal battles between environmentalists and the Tennessee Valley Authority over the Tellico Dam some years ago.


Species that are not so familiar include the barking tree frog, the Cumberland tiger snail, the Tennessee cave salamander, and the rumbling falls flatworm.

Whether familiar or not, each of the species on this carefully researched and prepared list fills a unique and important niche in the state's ecology and environment. As a part of the plan, biologists also worked to determine how many individuals of each species are necessary to ensure a continuing, viable population.

With similar lists prepared by surrounding states, the groundwork has now been laid for the next phase of the CWCS, the funding of programs to help preserve these species-not on a state-by-state basis, but on a range-wide basis. Whether adequate funding programs emerge from this massive inventory of America's wildlife remains to be seen, but with public, private and government support, it is possible-for the first time-to hope that a dependable source of funding for wildlife programs to benefit the vast majority of the species that inhabit our world is at hand. 

For a look at the complete Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy for Tennessee and a complete list of the species contained in the plan, see the State Wildlife Action Plan


How You Can Help

Contact your Congressmen and Senators to express your support for the Wildlife Action Plan and urge them to support the measure in Congress.


You can also sign up for the TWRA Wildlife Action Network e-mail list. This network is the TWRA's grassroots coalition dedicated to preserving Tennessee's wildlife and habitat for future generations to come.