Mt. Juliet resident Mark Gudlin is one of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s unsung heroes.
Gudlin, the TWRA’s Chief of Wildlife & Forestry, oversees the Agency’s critical habitat management and protection program, along with its forestry division.
“It’s primarily a desk job,” says the personable Gudlin who joined the TWRA in 1981 as a wildlife officer after earning a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee. “I miss being out in the field, but this job gets more important every year as we lose more and more wildlife habitat to a growing population. All of the development we’re seeing right here in Mt. Juliet is a prime example.”
Gudlin grew up in a Milwaukee suburb. He came to UT to work on a Master’s degree in biology and wildlife management. As soon as he graduated he joined the TWRA as a wildlife officer, assigned to Jefferson County.
From that entry-level job he was promoted a year later to manager of the Agency’s vast Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley Wildlife Management Area. He served there for three years before becoming the TWRA’s Small-Game Coordinator, then Assistant Chief of Wildlife, Habitat Management, and finally his current position.
Gudlin works out of the Agency’s Nashville office, commuting from Mt. Juliet where he and wife Denise live and raised their three children.
Gudlin devotes most of his time to overseeing the TWRA’s wildlife habitat programs and related initiatives, which include working with private land owners for habitat preservation.
“Ninety percent of the land in the state is privately owned,” he says. “It’s important for the Agency to work with land owners and farmers to develop and preserve as much natural wildlife habitat as possible.”
Another branch of the TWRA is involved in land acquisition. Gudlin does not work directly with the acquisition program, but once land is acquired he oversees its habitat management.
“Acquiring land is a vital, ongoing effort,” he says. “Once land is lost to development it’s lost forever. We want to acquire every acre possible for wildlife and public use, and preserve it for future generations.”
Gudlin says shrinking of public lands – and subsequent shrinkage of wildlife habitat – is one the most pressing challenges facing the Agency.
As more and more private land is lost to hunters and other outdoorsmen, they are increasingly forced to resort to Wildlife Management Areas. That results in over-crowding on some WMAs. It’s nobody fault, but such over-crowding spoils the natural ambiance.
The solution is to secure the use of more private land and develop its wildlife habitat. The same applies to the forestry program, which is not only economically beneficial for the TWRA but in many cases is part of a savannah-development effort to aid small-game and native bird populations.
Gudlin admits his desk job keeps him from getting out in the field more often to enjoy the outdoors he treasures — the very thing that led him into a career in wildlife management.
But without the behind-the-scenes work of him and the TWRA, there would be less outdoors opportunities for the rest of us to enjoy. They deserve every outdoorsman’s appreciation.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected]