Bills to limit wildlife agency’s authority to make money off of timber, seize property advance – Tennessee Lookout

A pair of payments in search of to rein within the authority of the Tennessee Wildlife Assets Company moved via the legislature Wednesday, with bipartisan help from the identical listing of lawmakers who’ve publicly expressed anger over the company’s plans to clear public lands earlier this 12 months.

A measure by Republican Rep. Paul Sherrell and Sen. Paul Bailey would require the state wildlife company to deposit all proceeds from timber gross sales into the state’s normal fund, as an alternative of remaining throughout the company’s funds. TWRA earns about $900,000 a 12 months from lumber gross sales on public land.

Sen. Paul Bailey, Republican of Cookeville, seeks greater accountability for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Paul Bailey, Republican of Cookeville, seeks better accountability for the Tennessee Wildlife Assets Company (Photograph: Tennessee Common Meeting)

Sherrell and Bailey symbolize Sparta, Tenn., the place TWRA plans to raze 2,000 acres of forest within the close by Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Space, drawing outrage from hunters, hikers, tourism officers and environmental teams.

A second invoice, by Sherrell and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, would bar the company, whose legislation enforcement arm enforces recreation, fish and wildlife legal guidelines, from seizing boats, vans, planes, RVs, automobiles or different motor automobiles of the suspects. with out court docket order.

Whereas it is unclear how a lot of those belongings are seized by TWRA with or with out a warrant, the company earns roughly $163,000 on the public sale of seized gadgets yearly, in response to a tax memo accompanying the invoice.

Each measures handed simply within the Senate Committee on Vitality, Agriculture and Pure Assets on Wednesday.

TWRA spokeswoman Jenifer Wisniewski stated company officers continued to work with the payments’ sponsors however in any other case wouldn’t touch upon whether or not TWRA helps or opposes them.

The payments are amongst a handful of proposed coverage adjustments that will place restrictions on the company’s authority, launched by Democratic and Republican lawmakers since battle over company stripping plans erupted within the fall.

Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Nashville Democrat, launched comparable payments requiring lumber gross sales to be deposited into the overall fund and inserting restrictions on TWRA auctions of property seized from these suspects. These payments didn’t transfer ahead. Since then, Campbell has signed on to help the Republican lawmakers’ measures.

TWRA has come underneath one other scrutiny and censure from lawmakers this 12 months.

In January, a letter to TWRA from a bipartisan group of 34 lawmakers accused the company of “failing in its obligation to guard Tennessee’s pure wildlife,” “an embarrassing lack of communication and transparency,” and stated lawmakers’ issues they’d been “obtained with deaf ears.”

The letter criticized company officers’ lack of response to lawmakers’ issues and questions on their clearance plans.

Then final month, Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, in a public listening to directed company leaders to debate any logging plans on Bridgestone land with lawmakers earlier than continuing. Southerland is the chairman of the Tennessee Senate Committee on Vitality, Agriculture and Pure Assets.

The Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Space, situated close to Sparta, Tenn. and adjoining to the Virgin Falls Pure Space, it incorporates about 16,000 acres, most of it forested.

A sequence of payments would require the Tennessee Wildlife Assets Company to deposit proceeds from timber gross sales into the state’s normal fund and prohibit the company’s means to grab non-public property with out a warrant.

TWRA made no formal public bulletins of its plans to chop within the space. Native hunters first noticed the spray-painted minimize marks on bushes in August, then obtained an unreleased TWRA map illustrating the placement of two,000 acres to be razed within the fashionable recreation space that officers say Native tourism is important for the native economic system.

Plans referred to as for creating savannah on the property, with few bushes, to create habitat for northern bobwhite quail, a recreation fowl whose populations have declined in Tennessee, together with different animal and plant species that thrive in grassy habitats.

After public pushback, TWRA officers have introduced a pause on these plans.

The company oversees searching and fishing licenses, wildlife and habitat administration, and greater than 100 wildlife administration areas and refuges all through Tennessee that vary in dimension from about 50 acres to greater than 625,000 acres.

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