Looking Back: History of Conservation in Tennessee

Jul 28, 2023

Sunlight shining through the trees on a river.
If you spend even a little time outdoors, surely you have noticed some of Tennessee’s incredible natural beauty. From songbirds in the trees to blooming native wildflowers to flowing rivers teeming with wildlife, Tennessee is incredibly diverse—but it wasn’t always that way. 

After decades of hunting and fishing with little-to-no regulation, wildlife populations were dwindling.

But the tide began to change in March 1870, when the Tennessee constitution was revised to allow the General Assembly to pass wildlife protection and preservation laws, providing new ways to conserve the state’s natural resources. In February 1946, the Tennessee Conservation League was founded, which was renamed Tennessee Wildlife Federation (that’s us!) in 2004. 

Tennessee has had a rich history of conservation since that important change to the state constitution more than 150 years ago—much of which the Federation has played a big role in. Here are some of our favorite conservation wins since the Federation began. 

1949 – The Tennessee Game and Fish Commission is established. This was the precursor to the state’s first wildlife agency, which the Federation still works closely with today. 

1964 – The first deer hunting season where each hunter was allowed to harvest two deer, signaling the deer populations across the state were growing.

1974 – Tennessee passes the Nongame and Endangered or Threatened Wildlife Species Conservation Act—the first nongame wildlife protections in the state. With increasing membership of nongame wildlife supporters, Tennessee Conservation League shifted focus to help pass this critical legislation. 

1990 – Wild turkeys are found in all 95 Tennessee counties for the first time. In 1952, turkeys were only found in 18 counties. 

2000 – Tennessee Conservation League and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reintroduce elk in Tennessee. Wild elk had not roamed the state in more than 135 years. 

Learn more: Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower>>

2011 – The Federation leads the charge to establish the Right to Hunt and Fish in Tennessee. 

2013 – The first sandhill crane hunting season is established in Tennessee after significant population recovery of the once-threatened species. 

2019 – The Land and Water Conservation Fund is reauthorized, protecting public access to natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities. LCWF became fully funded in 2020 when the Great American Outdoors Act passed. 

It is inspiring to look back and see all the progress that has been made to get Tennessee’s natural resources to where they are today. 

Read More: History of Tennessee Wildlife Federation >>

Our work to conserve wildlife and wild places is never done. Help us continue to advance conservation and protect Tennessee’s natural resources for generations to come.

Featured photo by Kimberly Koon

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