After controversy, reshuffle at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

A reshuffle at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has resulted in the abrupt layoff of key management personnel after a month-long period in which the agency drew anger from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over plans to clear-cutting – and lost a major legal fight.

Deputy Director Chris Richardson, once considered a candidate to lead the agency, Tracey Boyers, who served as general counsel, and Thomas Moncrief, associate attorney, have not been with TWRA since May 23. Richardson had worked for the agency since 2013, Boyers since 2007 and Moncrief since 2018, according to TWRA publications.

Their departures follow the announcement of retirement last month by Bobby Wilson, the executive director, who will leave the agency in September.

The trio’s dates were “expired” by the agency on May 23, according to an emailed statement from TWRA spokeswoman Emily Buck. The statement did not give a reason for the departures.

Under Tennessee law, “Tennessee state government executive service employees serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority and may be suspended, demoted, or terminated at any time their service is no longer required. “, reads the press release. “In respect of their privacy, and in accordance with the guidelines of the State of Tennessee Department of Human Resources, we will not discuss the details or the nature of the expiration of their appointments.”

TWRA serves as the state’s fishing and hunting licensing agency and manages 1.6 million acres of public lands across Tennessee. Last fall, a leaked TWRA map revealed that the agency planned to clear-cut 2,000 acres of forest in the Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area to create grassland habitat for bobwhite quail, which populations have plummeted over the past half century.

The Tennessee Lookout reported previously unannounced plans for the popular hunting, hiking and recreation area in White County in October. The plans drew an angry response – first from residents of the community whose economy relies, in part, on visitors drawn to the area’s natural beauty, then from lawmakers who criticized the government’s lack of communication. ‘agency.

Richardson, who was the legislative liaison before being promoted to deputy director last year, served as the primary point of contact with lawmakers.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, 34 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged wildlife officials to immediately halt all clear-cutting plans and accused agency leaders of a “disgraceful lack of communication and transparency with this plan.” and “failing to protect Tennessee’s natural wildlife.” .”

“You have succeeded in uniting Tennesseans from all walks of life against the plan. Republicans, Democrats, Hunters, environmentalists, businesspeople and public officials all disagree with TWRA’s plan for public lands” , says the letter from last January.

TWRA officials later agreed to end – at least temporarily – Bridgestone’s clear-cut plan, but lawmakers during the legislative session introduced a series of bills to limit authority. of the agency.

One such measure has been successful: requiring the agency to follow the same rules as the state agriculture and forestry departments for selling timber harvested from public lands. TWRA, which has long kept profits from timber sales on public lands in its own agency budget, has been criticized for its lack of transparency and accountability in its timber sales.

In March, TWRA lost a court battle over its right to conduct warrantless searches of private property to enforce state game, fish and wildlife laws. Boyers, the recently deceased general counsel for TWRA, served as counsel in the case, which the state attorney general’s office is now appealing.

“We recognize that stakeholders are invested in the future of the agency’s programs and operations,” TWRA’s statement said Wednesday. “The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has worked to preserve, conserve, manage, protect, and enhance the state’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of Tennessee and its visitors since 1949. TWRA will continue this important work uninterrupted in the days to come.”

Read more on TennesseeLookout.com.

Christy J. Olson