The last time the state of Tennessee went through a process to determine the challenges and opportunities facing our state’s natural resources, I was a junior in high school and Ronald Reagan was President.
In 1985, President Reagan asked then Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander to chair the President’s Commission on “Americans Outdoors” and challenged the Commission to assess the status of our natural resources and the availability of outdoor recreational pursuits for the next generation of Americans and make recommendations to ensure the continued availability of such pursuits.
The undertaking of this national effort meant that Tennessee also developed its own state assessment of our natural resources via a process called “Tennesseans Outdoors.” Although many of the recommendations from this effort were implemented, much has changed in Tennessee since the release of the November 1986 report and these changes have had a profound effect on our natural resources and outdoor recreation needs.
In Tennessee, the Great Outdoors is big business and a long-standing part of our heritage. Tennessee’s mountains, rivers, plains, and wildlife have shaped who we are as a people and a culture, and have supported our rural and industrial economies for generations. For example, forestry, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, state parks visitation, and boating alone contribute over $30 billion in annual economic output to Tennessee’s economy. They also produce nearly 200,000 thousand jobs and generate well over $750 hundred million annually in local, state, and federal tax revenue.
In addition to direct economic benefits, these activities also provide critical and significant health and quality of life benefits. However, it is our bountiful renewable natural resources that are the foundation of all of this sustainable economic engine. It therefore follows that we must ensure that we have a well-managed and healthy natural resource base to sustain and grow these sectors of our economy.
Today there are significant pressures placed upon our state’s land, streams, rivers, wildlife, forests, fields, air, and lakes by multiple, and often competing uses. These uses, if not planned, executed, and managed wisely, can and do negatively impact to our natural resources and, in turn, the outdoor recreation economic sector. Further, unexpected threats to our natural resources and a greater demand for quality outdoor experiences by our citizens are rapidly and steadily increasing.
For Tennessee to maintain and expand the benefits that our out-of-doors provide, we suggest the creation of a Forum on Tennessee’s Great Outdoors. This Forum will assess the current status of our state’s natural resources, identify critical challenges facing their management and conservation, and develop strategic solutions to ensure their persistence well into the future. By bringing together Tennessee’s citizen leaders and professionals who have a passion for the Great Outdoors, the Forum can work together to develop results-driven solutions to the challenges we face.
In a day when our politicians and elected officials are quick to quote Ronald Reagan, they need to remember the vision he had for our great nation and a Tennessee Governor who shared that vision. Tennessee’s forests, lands, waters, and wildlife are great treasures that deserve a discussion that looks to a vision for our state’s natural resources and their needs.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation has worked with house and senate members to introduce HB1871/SB1832 which will establish a Forum on Tennessee’s Outdoors. Stay tuned for updates.