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Tennessee Wildlife Action Plan

Early History of Conservation Funding

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 manufacturer’s 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 manufacturer’s 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 warm and coldwater fish stocking and management of reservoirs and streams.

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 nongame 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 nongame species in dire need of help. 

Tennessee's State Wildlife Action Plan

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

Today, Tennessee is one of the most biodiverse states in the nation. Currently there are more than 325 species of fish, 89 mammals, 61 reptiles, 70 amphibians, and 340+ birds known to inhabit or migrate through Tennessee. The number of invertebrate species, many of which are endemic to Tennessee, is equally impressive with 256 land snails, 99 aquatic snails, 120+ mussels, 77 crayfish, and a multitude of insects. There are also more than 2,300 varieties of plants.

Conserving this assemblage of biodiversity in the wake of economic growth and ever-changing landscapes requires funding at the state and federal level. Traditionally, conservation funding has been raised through hunting fees and excise taxes associated with game species. Although conservation of game species has been very successful, many nongame species are without dedicated conservation funding at the federal level and, therefore, at risk of becoming rare, threatened or endangered.

Recognition of the gap in conservation funding and the associated risks to nongame wildlife led to the introduction of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) into congress in 2000. The provisions of CARA provided $350 million in annual funding to be dispersed among the 50 states for wildlife conservation, recreation and education programs. CARA was considered the most important wildlife conservation funding legislation to be introduced in 50 years, and although it rallied tremendous bipartisan support it was not enacted into law.

Undaunted, wildlife coalitions such as Teaming With Wildlife and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (presently the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) pushed for legislation that would provide adequate, predictable funding for conservation programs. In 2001, the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Act (WCRP) and the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) programs were enacted into law. Together WCRP ($50 million) and SWG ($25 million) provided $75 million dollars in conservation funding, $841,000 of which was allocated to Tennessee. In 2002, the monies allocated for SWG increased to $85 million, increasing Tennessee’s share to $1,354,020. Since the SWG program went into effect in 2001, Tennessee has received more than $12.2 million, which has been used for such projects as habitat and species restoration and protection, research on life history requirements and threat assessments, support for a mussel restoration facility, species surveys, and database and GIS development.

To ensure conservation programs funded by State Wildlife Grants are designed for maximum benefits to nongame wildlife, Congress mandated that all states must complete a detailed Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) or State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) by October 1, 2005. The SWAP addresses 8 elements required by Congress for each plan, including identifying species of greatest conservation need, their habitat, threats, conservation actions and more, and will be revised every 10 years

The primary goal of the SWAP will be to prevent wildlife from declining to the point of endangerment. This goal will be achieved by engaging a broad array of partners in the development process including other government agencies, conservation groups, private landowners, the public, and anyone else who has a stake in fish and wildlife management. It is the intent that the strategic plans from the states will collectively create a nationwide approach to wildlife conservation and turn the tide of species decline.

As a part of the SWG program, each state was asked to produce a detailed plan Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The CWCS team of TWRA wildlife biologists, with assistance from The Nature Conservancy, the nation's leading conservation planning organization, spent 18 months developing the Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan or TN SWAP.

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 housing 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.

Tennessee also has more than 9,000 documented caves, so the TN SWAP Planning Team was also required to consider these subterranean habitats.

While the current Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan boasts many successes, federal guidelines stipulate an update by 2015 for state wildlife agencies to continue receiving funding through the State Wildlife Grants program. TWRA, The Nature Conservancy and other partners began a two-year SWAP revision process in the fall of 2013 that is addressing changing environmental conditions and new conservation issues, such as emerging wildlife diseases and the spread of invasive exotic species. New data from wildlife monitoring and habitat surveys, as well as climate change information, is being incorporated into the updated plan.

Natural resource managers hope this updated plan will not only continue to benefit Tennessee’s wildlife, but also will help meet regional and national conservation goals.

Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan Target Species

concern

The Eight Required Elements Of the State Wildlife Action Plan

Congress identified eight required elements to be addressed in each state’s wildlife conservation strategy. Congress also directed that the strategies must identify and be focused on the “species in greatest need of conservation,” yet address the “full array of wildlife” and wildlife-related issues.

Congress also affirmed through this legislation that broad public participation is an essential element of developing and implementing these plans, the projects that are carried out while these plans are developed, and the species in the greatest need of conservation that Congress has indicated such programs and projects are intended to emphasize.

The strategies must provide and make use of the following:

Information on the distribution and abundance of species of wildlife including low and declining populations as the state fish and wildlife agency deems appropriate, that are indicative of the diversity and health of the states wildlife; and,

Descriptions of locations and relative condition of key habitats and community types essential to conservation of species identified

Descriptions of problems which may adversely affect species identified or their habitats, and priority research and survey efforts needed to identify factors which may assist in restoration and improved conservation of these species and habitats

Descriptions of conservation actions proposed to conserve the identified species and habitats and priorities for implementing such action

Proposed plans for monitoring species identified and their habitats for monitoring the effectiveness of the conservation actions proposed, and for adapting these conservation actions to respond appropriately to new information or changing conditions

Descriptions of the procedures to review the strategy at intervals not to exceed ten years

Plans for coordinating the development, implementation, review, and revision of the plan with federal, state, and local agencies and Indian tribes that manage significant land and water areas within the state or administer programs that significantly affect the conservation of identified species and habitats.

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.

To be added to the TWRA Wildlife Action Network email list and to receive regular updates about the TN SWAP revision process progress, please contact Lindsay Gardner, TN State Wildlife Action Plan Communications Coordinator, atlindsay.gardner@tn.gov. The Network is TWRA's grassroots coalition dedicated to preserving Tennessee's wildlife and habitat for future generations to come.For more information about the Tennessee Wildlife Action Plan, State Wildlife Grants Program, the Teaming with Wildlife initiative, or to submit questions or comments about the SWAP update process, contact Bill Reeves, TWRA Chief of Biodiversity at bill.reeves@tn.gov or 615-781-6645.

State Wildlife Action Plan Planning Team

Many state and federal agencies, universities, nongovernmental organizations and special interest groups are assisting in the development of Tennessee’s State Wildlife Action Plan.

Federal Agency Participants
National Park Service
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Tennessee Valley Authority
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service

State Agency Participants
Division of Natural Heritage, Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Tennessee Department of Transportation
Division of Forestry, Tennessee Department of Agriculture
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Non-governmental Organizations and Professional Associations
Tennessee Conservation League
Tennessee Ornithological Society
The Nature Conservancy
World Wildlife Fund

Bill Reeves, Chief of Biodiversity bill.reeves@tn.gov

Rob Colvin, Wildlife Diversity Coordinator, Region 1 rob.colvin@tn.gov

Josh Campbell, Wildlife Diversity Coordinator, Region 2  josh.campbell@tn.gov

Chris Simpson, Wildlife Diversity Coordinator, Region 3  chris.simpson@tn.gov

Scott Dykes, Wildlife Diversity Coordinator, Region 4 scott.dykes@tn.gov

Sally Palmer, Director of Science, The Nature Conservancy spalmer@tnc.org

Aquatic Species

Fish
University of Tennessee
Tennessee Valley Authority
Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Tennessee Chapter, American Fisheries Society

Crayfish
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Mussels
U.S. Geological Survey

Snails
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tennessee Technological University
Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Rare Mollusk Committee

Terrestrial Species

Birds
Tennessee Ornithological Society,
Tennessee Valley Authority
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Mammals
Tennessee Valley Authority
University of Tennessee
University of Memphis
Tennessee Technological University
Tennessee Chapter, Wildlife Society
Bat Working Group

Reptile
Freed-Hardeman University

Amphibians
Tennessee Technological University
Middle Tennessee State University
Austin Peay State University
Tennessee Herpetological Society

Snails
Lincoln Memorial University
Amateur Collectors

Cave Invertebrates
The Nature Conservancy
Dr. Jerry Lewis
Tennessee Department of Environment and
Conservation, Division Of Natural Heritage

Insects and Other Invertebrates
Belmont University
Middle Tennessee Chapter,
North American Butterfly Association
Tennessee Department of Environment and
Conservation, Division of Natural Heritage