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Closed hunting land causing stir
Jun 13, 2006 12:00 am
June 5, 2006 – The recent closing of 200 state-owned acres to hunters is causing an uproar among the hunting community and has at least one member of the governing commission openly questioning the body's decision.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission members voted to close the bowhunting-only tract north of Lebanon adjacent to the Cumberland River in May. The closure came at the request of a nearby landowner who complained of hunters trespassing on his property, Commission member Jeanette Rudy said.
"The man has that right to that privacy," Rudy said. "But now the hunter is wrong by crossing over into his pastures, but I do not want the ground closed to hunting."
Rudy said closing the land in response to a single landowner's complaint is akin to "opening Pandora's box."
"All over the State of Tennessee there are other people who own property next to the Wildlife Management Areas," Rudy said. " … Now, if we closed this hunting area for this one man, then we would have to close all the others all over the state. Pretty soon, the hunter would have no place to have public hunting."
Rudy, whose TWRC district includes Wilson County, said the landowner did not approach her but instead talked to a personal friend who is an at-large commissioner.
But the landowner, David McMahan, said he approached Rudy after speaking with at-large commissioner Tom Hensley, who – along with McMahan – is a Nashville lobbyist.
McMahan downplayed his relationship with Hensley.
"Tom said in the committee, 'I know David McMahan, he's a friend of mine,' and I don't want to say that I'm not friends with Tom … but we don't vacation together or anything," McMahan said. "… In my line of work, if I called the Department of Transportation to complain about a pothole, I'm going to know somebody in the Department of Transportation. And it was all done well out in the open."
McMahan – who purchased the 90-acre tract about two years ago – said the TWRC corrected a mistake by closing the land. He said access is very limited and the shape of the state's land lends itself to trespassing.
"If they're going to have to walk a mile and a quarter … or they can cut across my property and walk a third of that, that's what they're going to do," McMahan said.
Furthermore, he said he obtained some 20 signatures of nearby landowners in a petition which was presented to the Commission last month.
"I didn't have one single neighbor refuse to sign the petition," McMahan said.
TWRC spokesman Doug Markam said he had never seen a tract of land closed in such a quick manner.
"In my life as a spectator for the (commission) … it might have happened, but I can't recall it," Markam said.
Rudy said while her proposal to station more wildlife officers at the site to prevent trespassing was not taken up, she plans to revisit the matter at a future meeting.
"It's a two-way street, and I think the majority of people see this, but some of the commissioners were committed to friendship," Rudy said. "But we cannot make our rules on friendships."
Meanwhile, State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, who sits on the legislature's Government Operations committee, said she would like to see the change brought before that committee. Any rule changes must ultimately go through this committee and be approved by the General Assembly.
Lynn said she had spoken to committee chair Rep. Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, and said he told her he would likely support a request to "show just cause."
"At the next government operations committee, we want them to show up and explain exactly why … they want this rule changed," Lynn said.
"I'll be very curious to see why they did that because they're certainly taking a lot of good hunting land out of use," Lynn said. "People are trying to do that every single day, and we don't want to see that happening."
Lynn said hunters often provide a public service in the area by "thinning the herd" of animals such as deer.
Meanwhile, the Internet is abuzz with discussion about the closing. An initial post on tndeer.com on May 25 has generated hundreds of responses in the past nine days.
Lynn and Rudy say they will address the matter at the next Government Operations Committee and TWRC meetings, respectively.
The tract is part of a 900-acre Wildlife Management Area in Wilson County. The 200 acres affected is the portion south of the Cumberland River.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.