Special Reports


The Tennessee Wildlife Federation has a long history of producing focused natural resource reports that bring together the best science and policy minds and information to review and comment upon leading natural resource issues of our day. Please check back here regularly for new special reports, and please feel free to share with your friends and colleagues.

A Time for Tennessee’s Great Outdoors
The Need for a Long View Vision for Tennessee’s Wildlife and Natural Resources

Michael Butler, CEO, Tennessee Wildlife Federation

Executive Summary

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.

Outdoor-based recreation contributes billions of dollars to Tennessee’s economy, produces tens of thousands of jobs, and generates hundreds of millions more dollars in local, state and federal tax revenue. In addition to these direct economic benefits, these activities also provide critical and significant health and quality of life benefits.

However, to protect and grow the outdoor recreation industry, we must have a well-managed and healthy natural resource base. Today, there are significant pressures placed upon our state’s land, streams, rivers, wildlife, forests, fields, air and lakes by multiple, often competing, uses. These uses—if not planned, executed and managed wisely—can and do negatively impact the outdoor recreation economic sector. Furthermore, unexpected threats to our natural resources and a demand by our citizens for quality outdoor experiences are rapidly and steadily increasing.

For Tennessee to maintain and expand the benefits that its great outdoors provides, we suggest the creation of a Forum on Tennessee’s Great Outdoors. This Forum would:

  1. Assess the current status of our state’s natural resources
  2. Identify critical challenges facing the management and conservation of these resources
  3. Develop strategic solutions to ensure that these renewable and sustainable resources persist 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 to develop results-driven solutions to the challenges we face. In doing this, the Forum will help prevent degradation of our natural resources and ensure that the economic, health and quality of life benefits derived from Tennessee’s great outdoors persist into the future and provide future generations with better opportunities than we have today.

Supporting and Growing Tennessee’s Economy and Jobs

Tennessee’s natural resources are the backbone of our state’s economy and Tennessean’s quality of life and health. This simple fact should place natural resources’ proper management and conservation as a priority for any administration.

Because the great outdoors are big business in Tennessee, investments therein provide remarkable economic returns.

Take for example recent research from the University of Georgia that shows the economic value of public access trout fishing in North Georgia to be more than $200 million annually.

Sources: National Marine Manufacturers Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Tennessee *State Parks participation number reflects the number of visitors, not individuals and forestry figures are conservative estimations. Total figures underestimate actual impacts

Similarly, specific analyses of investments made at federal fish hatcheries and the positive impacts to surrounding economies show that Tennessee’s Dale Hollow Federal Fish Hatchery has an annual economic impact in Tennessee of $150 million.

The Chattahoochee Federal Fish Hatchery in Georgia supports 333 jobs, $8.6 million in salary and wages, retail sales of more than $16 million and a total economic output of $30.3 million. For every $1 spent on the hatchery, $40 in economic output is generated.

These economic realities are why Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain will soon have a total of seven (7) outdoor megastores in Tennessee. Additionally, many of Tennessee’s most productive economic sectors rely heavily upon our state’s natural resources. Recently completed state strategic plans for agriculture and tourism focus strongly on jobs and economic development, but rely heavily on Tennessee maintaining healthy natural resources.

Improving Tennessean’s Health, Well-being and Quality of Life

In 2014, Governor Haslam publicly recognized the critical importance the great outdoors plays in the mental and physical health of Tennessee’s citizens when he joined 41 other governors to proclaim June as “Great Outdoors Month.”

Numerous research studies clearly show the mental and physical health benefits of the great outdoors to adults and children, the latter of which also reap developmental benefits. In children, spending time playing in the great outdoors improves both fine and gross motors skills, attention span, visual skills, auditory processing, social-emotional development and creativity.

For adults, benefits of an active lifestyle are well documented and widely known. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed to activity in the great outdoors as important to chronic disease prevention. Beyond obvious physical benefits to exercise, exposure to the great outdoors benefit mental health, social cohesion and a general sense of well-being.

What is less known and understood by many families and adults is where they can recreate. And even less so, where they can recreate that provides a quality experience. Ensuring that Tennesseans, and visitors to our great state, have adequate access to our great outdoors in a way that keeps them coming back is a critical need to our people and our economy.

The Challenge

In managing Tennessee’s natural resources, there is a “golden rule” that states: If you take care of the resource, it will always produce a sustainable and renewable bounty that Tennesseans can enjoy for generations upon generations.

There exist modern day threats that require new approaches and innovative solutions to prevent them from negatively impacting our state’s natural resources. In some cases, the scale of the problem is too large for our current capacities. In other cases, the complexity of the threat overwhelms a single solution. These responses require cross-disciplinary collaborative approaches that cannot be developed successfully in a silo or vacuum.

For example, the Asian-longhorned beetle is close to Tennessee—its infestation is in Ohio. This beetle feeds on maple and 29 other species of trees, many of which occur in Tennessee. If we are not properly prepared, this beetle could have a devastating economic impact on our tourism and forest industries by destroying maple trees that provide Tennessee’s signature fall colors, and other trees that support our timber products. This would also produce a destructive domino effect by destroying wildlife habitat; that in turn negatively impacts the hunting and wildlife-watching industries.

Additionally, water quantity and quality are two major challenges facing the entire Southeast for the foreseeable future. With Middle Tennessee projected to add an additional one million residents during the next 20 years, the demand for water will increase exponentially, placing great pressure upon our streams, rivers and reservoirs. If not properly planned for and managed, this demand will deleteriously impact the waters that Tennesseans use for fishing, boating and recreation and subsequently the rural economies that rely upon these uses.

These are just two of several large and complex challenges facing Tennessee’s great outdoors. And while these challenges are demanding attention, more Tennesseans are looking to recreate outdoors, and have a high quality experience doing so. Several of our public spaces are being overused, and as a result the experience is greatly diminished. To sustain quality outdoor tourism and recreation, access to the necessary, well-managed natural resources is a critical problem.

These impacts lower the quality of life Tennesseans, and negatively impact rural economies. Given these realities, the time is right for—and circumstances require—a renewed strategic examination of the challenges and needs facing Tennessee’s natural resources and the development of solutions to meet those challenges and needs. Only then can our natural resources be used wisely and sustainably to support outdoor recreation, tourism and other needs for the benefit of our state and its citizens.

Tennessee’s lands, water and wildlife are the foundation upon which many of our state’s economic engines are built. It is therefore proper and important that we provide leadership to facilitate a long view process to address these challenges.

Click here to view as a PDF.


An examination of a sandhill crane season in Tennessee

By Michael Butler, CEO

As we approach an August vote by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission on the question of a limited eastern sandhill crane season, we thought it would be prudent to review the facts of the species and the debate.  (UPDATE:  The vote was passed unanimously.)

The efforts of state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, along with sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts, have resulted in the remarkable recovery of the eastern sandhill crane. The population is currently estimated to be more than 100,000 individual birds and growing, double that of 1996.

Sandhill crane hunting has occurred for more than 50 years in other states without any negative impacts on the sandhill crane populations, while helping to mitigate agricultural damage. The population is currently resulting in some crop depredation, and that has to be managed as the numbers continue to grow. Depredation permits have proven ineffective.

One of the loudest objections we’ve heard is that whooping cranes will be taken accidentally. There are a number of states where sandhill and whooping cranes migrate and sandhills are hunted; efforts in those states have proven successful in preventing any accidental taking of whooping cranes. In fact, since 1961 there have only been three cases of whooping cranes being accidentally shot by hunters, while approximately 15,000 cranes are harvested annually nationwide.

The Federation believes that the sandhill crane represents another tremendous conservation success story, supported largely by the resources of hunters through license fees and excise taxes. When a species recovers to a point where it needs to be hunted for management purposes, that’s a good thing.  Whitetail deer and wild turkeys are a perfect example.  Both state and federal waterfowl biologists recommend the establishment of a sandhill season in Tennessee, with a limited number of permits offered.

Wildlife watchers and hunters co-exist all over Tennessee, even during hunting season. Around Reelfoot Lake in January, for instance, dozens of photographers are in the area taking pictures of waterfowl during the peak of the duck season. These two “uses” of our wildlife resources are mutually agreeable, as has been demonstrated with so many other species. This reality is also supported by wildlife watchers and hunters; both said in a recent survey that they believe crane viewing and hunting can co-exist.

Over the course of our nearly 70-year history, our basis for decision-making has always been the biology, which underpins the entire North American wildlife conservation model. The biology clearly supports establishing a sandhill crane season in Tennessee, as do the federal and state biologists charged with making these decisions.

Some information regarding the current status on sandhill crane populations and hunting.

  • The eastern population of greater sandhill cranes is healthy and estimated by professional biologists to be more than 100,000 birds.Sandhill crane hunting and viewing festivals co-exist in seven U.S. states.
  • Modern day regulated crane hunting has existed in the U.S. since 1961, and no crane hunting season has negatively impacted a crane population.
  • Both federal and state wildlife biologists believe that the sandhill population is healthy enough to support a hunting season.  The population numbers of cranes used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the eastern U.S. and TWRA for Tennessee are NOT estimates.  They are actual counts of cranes during their surveys.  For 2012, the USFWS count was 87,796 for the eastern U.S. and TWRA’s 2013 count was 18,701.  These are not estimates, but rather hard numbers.  Population estimates are significantly higher for both the eastern U.S. and Tennessee.
  • The methodologies used to count cranes have been standardized and perfected by wildlife biologists since the 1950’s when biologists started using similar techniques to monitor continental waterfowl populations.
  • The potential impacts on whooping cranes from the hunting of sandhill cranes are overstated.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has historically issued depredation tags to landowners to kill sandhill cranes.  The rules of these permits also require landowners to leave the cranes to rot after they are killed, resulting in wasting the resource.
  • Many landowners have stopped applying for (or never bother to apply for) depredation tags because the process is tedious, difficult and slow.
  • Sandhill cranes have a proven capability to negatively impact agriculture crops, resulting in significant financial crop damage annually.
  • If approved, the TWRA will most likely implement a season by taking a conservative approach to season lengths and bag limits, which we support and which has been proven sustainable in other states.

To read additional facts and statistics about sandhill cranes, CLICK HERE. Opens as a pdf.

deer-million6Deer farming in Tennessee

Our Board of Directors has voted unanimously to oppose deer farming in our state.  As with any issue, we base our decisions on sound science rather than emotion and partisan politics. We have received several questions about the science related to deer farming.  The research is so extensive, we’ve created a page devoted solely to the subject.  CLICK HERE to view this page.

Please check back regularly for updates and additional information.

cumberlandplatDevelopment, Land-use Policy, and the Future of Agriculture, Forestry and Hunting in the Southeast Cumberland Plateau

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is pleased to present its final report on development, land-use policy, and the future of agriculture, forestry and hunting in the southeast Cumberland Plateau. This report will include numerous documents outlining the various meetings and presentations associated with the project as seen in the Table of Contents. The primary audience for this document is those who funded the project; however, there have been several groups and individuals who have requested a copy of this report. The project leaders have decided to include useful documents into the report so that others can not only get a true sense of the multi-faceted approach when attempting to build a case for land conservation; but also to allow others to be able to replicate the process.  To open a pdf document of the full report, CLICK HERE.

stripminingTennessee’s mining policies

This report contains a three part review of Tennessee’s mining policy. A product of more than 1,600 hours of research, 200 stakeholder interviews, and numerous on-site visits, it provides an overview of trends in the coal market, production, and policy. In so doing, it argues the case for upgrading how coal mining is regulated in Tennessee and points to a sense of urgency for doing so. It also provides a comprehensive review of related policy issues in need of improvement.

To read a pdf the full report, CLICK HERE.