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TWRA criticism, coverage was off-base

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Updated Oct 22, 2013 at 9:29 PM

A disgruntled state senator with a history of criticizing the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency last week blasted the agency over certain findings in a routine audit.

State Sen. Frank Niceley was quoted as saying the agency "is out of control" and needs a major overhaul.

Niceley's scathing comments were part of a lengthy story carried in The Tennessean that cast the TWRA in a negative light.

The story accentuated comments from the TWRA's most vocal critic, Niceley, with no counterbalance from any of the agency's legion of supporters.

The state audit found that since 2009 the TWRA has made over 57,000 credit card purchases, 36 of which were deemed "improper."

That's it? Thirty-six flagged credit card uses out of more than 57,000? Seems to me the TWRA should be held up as a shining example to other state agencies.

The audit also claimed the TWRA had "lost track of some equipment," but admitted, "most of which appeared to involve small sums of money."

The TWRA patrols all 95 Tennessee counties, with personnel and resources stretched from one end of the state to the other and often operating in rugged, remote areas. It is surprising that an item of equipment might occasionally be lost or misplaced?

The TWRA has over 700 employees assigned to four regional areas. They are responsible for enforcing the state's hunting, fishing and boating regulations, as well as protecting non-game species such as songbirds, reptiles and amphibians.

The TWRA is often the first on the scene of outdoor accidents, such as boat wrecks or drownings, and trains for rescue and recovery operations. Agency boats and personnel patrol such lakes as Old Hickory and Percy Priest and enforce safety regulations, providing a public service that the public doesn't have to pay for.

The agency is often called on to assist with predator control, such as the invasion of coyotes in a residential area.

Under the TWRA's management, whitetail deer and wild turkeys have made remarkable comebacks. At one time both were virtually extinct, and now both are abundant state-wide. Deer and turkey hunting, along with sport fishing and other outdoor ventures under TWRA management, are a billion-dollar industry. The agency's elk-restoration project has, in just over one decade, built the state's elk population from zero to several hundred.

The TWRA invests heavily in land acquisition -- land utilized by the general public, not by just the outdoorsmen who foot the bill.

The TWRA -- funded by license sales, boat registration fees and related user revenue -- has not had a license increase in years. It has held the line on its budget amid escalating costs of operation. It probably does more with less than any other government  agency.

This doesn't mean that improprieties should be overlooked or condoned. If someone is misusing TWRA resources, the situation should be addressed and corrected.

But according to the audit, such irregularities are extremely rare. Instead of inviting criticism, I thought the audit cast the agency's operation in a very favorable light.

It's no secret that the TWRA has its critics, some of whom have a personal vendetta or a political agenda. That's a dangerous game to play in this day and time, trying to undermine an agency that over the past half-century has become a national model for successful wildlife management, conservation and public service.

Instead of getting blasted, the TWRA deserves a pat on the back -- and fair reportage from an either clueless or biased media.

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