Lebanon’s Dennis Gardner, a member of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission, says the New Year rings in some major challenges, but also reflects some significant success stories.
“At the top of the list of challenges is Chronic Wasting Disease,” says Gardner, who moved to Wilson County a few years ago after his retirement as a Memphis air-traffic controller.
Gardner was appointed to the Wildlife Commission by then-House Speaker Berth Harwell in 2017. His term runs through 2021. He is one of four statewide representatives on the 13-member commission that regulates fish and wildlife management.
That management includes dealing with the CWD outbreak which first appeared in the state last winter and could threaten the state’s thriving deer population.
“Addressing the CWD situation will continue to be a primary focus,” Gardner says.
He cites an example of how serious the situation is: the Commission recently approved $1 million for an incinerator specifically designed for the disposal of infected deer carcasses.
“Landfills won’t accept them,” Gardner explains, “so we will have to use an incinerator (as have some other states in which CWD exists) to dispose of them.”
Gardner says the TFWC was addressing CWD concerns long before it appeared in the state, restricting the importation of deer and elk products that might be infected.
Now that it is here, the TWFC is working with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency on ways to deal with it, including establishing a “CWD Zone” to try to contain the spread.
“We want hunters to keep hunting,” Gardner says. “The best way to control CWD is to control the deer population.”
CWD is not believed to affect humans or other wildlife. CWE testing sites have been set up around the state to check for the disease, and more sites will be added.
Another challenge is combating the Asian Carp invasion as the invasive species continues to spread and threaten native species.
This year the TWRA installed barriers on some rivers to check the carps’ migration, and partners with commercial fishermen to promote more netting.
Although the carp likely can’t be eliminated entirely, the Agency hopes to keep their numbers from increasing.
A six-year study of the state’s turkey population is in its fourth year as the TWRA and University of Tennessee partner to try to determine why the once-abundant birds have virtually disappeared in some areas. Despite the concern, the turkey harvest remained relatively stable in 2019.
One positive story is the continuing success of the state’s elk-restoration program. Last fall’s hunting-permit raffle was a huge success, generating thousands of dollars for the program and allowing more and more hunters to harvest one of the animals.
Garner also is enthusiastic about a new $1.5 million waterfowl program that uses GPS systems to study migration patterns that will aid in management.
“We have a lot of good things going on, along with some challenges,” he says. “I agreed to serve on the Commission to represent average hunters and fishermen like me, and to do what is in their best interest.”