If Southeast Tennessee sportsmen want the chance to talk to wildlife officials face-to-face, they will have an easy opportunity May 23-24.
That’s when the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will convene at Bryan College in Dayton. The TFWC is composed of 13 members appointed by the Governor and the Legislature in staggered terms. They serve as the governing body over the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, setting all regulations governing hunting and fishing in Tennessee. The regulatory body meets most often in Nashville but occasionally moves its meetings to other parts of the state. This month it is Dayton’s turn.
SHARE YOUR OPINION
At the April meeting, TWRA staff biologists shared their 2017-2018 hunting season recommendations with commissioners. Now the Agency is soliciting public comments on those proposed regulations. All the proposed regulations changes can be found here. Comments may be submitted by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “Hunting Season Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions. Or send regular mail to 2017-18 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204. The official public comment period will close after May 15. You can also contact individual commissioners.
Most observers agree, however, that personal appearances by sportsmen at TFWC carry great weight. Just like any sales pitch, it is very easy to ignore an e-mail or letter. It is much harder to ignore a persuasive argument when the salesperson, (you) is looking the customer (wildlife commissioners) in the eye.
While there are always several topics of interest, TWRA biologists recommended no major changes for any of the upcoming hunting seasons. The primary item of interest this year concerns a regulation that was NOT recommended for change.
Last year wildlife commissioners changed the legal definition of an antlered deer. For decades a deer wasn’t legally defined as a buck – counting against a hunter’s bag limit – unless it had antlers a minimum of three inches long. But commissioners changed that definition last year, defining a buck as any deer that had any hard antler protruding through the hairline.
HOW IT WORKS
If you want to share your opinion, and can only attend one day of the two-day meeting, you probably want to be there on Tuesday, May 23. The first day is technically “Committee Meetings,” and that is when the majority of any public discussion takes place on various issues. Even though only a few selected commission members are on each committee, every commissioner sits in on every committee meeting and hears all discussion. Members of the public are generally allowed the opportunity to address the commission at this time, usually with a three-minute time limit. Afterwards only the select committee members vote on what its recommendation will be to the full commission.
The second day of the meeting is when ALL commissioners formally vote. In most cases there is relatively little discussion on day two and commissioners just vote “Aye” or “Nay.” There may be an opportunity for the public to speak before the vote, however it is often a moot point because most commissioners have already made up their minds.
Tennessee’s Sunshine Law says, “the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.” On the nights following TFWC committee meetings, it is doubtful that there are any votes or decision-making that violates Sunshine Law provisions. However, on day two when the full commission makes formal votes, it is often very clear to observers that commissioners know full well which way a vote is going to go. If sportsmen want to have any influence, they are best to make their pitch on day one of the meeting because day two is often simply a rubber stamp process.
The majority of TFWC are voice votes versus roll call votes, which means commissioners rarely must declare their opinion publically. On a voice vote, a bunch of commissioners simply exclaim “Aye.” Then when the chairperson calls for “Nays,” everybody sits there silent – even those who might be opposed often stay silent because they know they’re in the minority and voting out loud will make no difference… except the news releases can say, “by a unanimous vote, the commission did such and such.”
It is a very rare day when the chairperson calls for a roll call vote, forcing each commissioner to openly declare his or her position on a sensitive or controversial subject. But it can happen – and in my opinion, should happen much more often than it does.
Other matters on the commission’s May agenda will be continued discussion on turkey bag limits. It will also consider a plan to establish standardized opening dates for the various bear seasons and hunt zones. TWRA has standardized opening dates for many other game species’ seasons. Various changes are also recommended on wildlife management areas, public hunting areas, and national wildlife refuges.