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Audit Finds Purchasing-Oversight Problems in State Wildlife Agency

Some of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s management practices open the department up to risks of fraud and spending abuses, a recent audit released by the state comptroller’s office said.

The most egregious example of a lack of oversight is with state payment cards, which allow TWRA employees to buy goods and services for the agency. According to the audit, between July 1, 2009 and Jan. 24, 2013, TWRA employees made more than 57,000 purchases, totaling nearly $13.3 million.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency management did not maintain proper controls over State Payment Cards, increasing the risk that state resources will be used improperly due to fraud, waste, and abuse,” the audit found.

Employees were allowed to make purchases that should not have been permitted, and also to avoid purchasing limits because, according to the audit, supervisors failed to double check and approve receipts in some situations.

While TWRA policy requires employees to maintain logs of purchases that are then approved by supervisors, state auditors found that record-keeping was not always maintained and approved properly across the board, leaving an opportunity for fraudulent purchases.

Also the audit found cards are not always deactivated promptly after a cardholder leaves the employ of TWRA. “Management did not always promptly terminate cardholders’ payment cards, resulting in one purchase (totaling $55) made on a terminated employee’s payment card,” wrote the probe’s authors.

Agency overseers recognize a need to revise its policies to encourage better compliance and say steps are being taken to address the issues raised in the report, said Jeff McMillan, chairman of the Tennessee Wildlife Management Commission, which meets Thursday and Friday at Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport.

“This is why we need to do an audit every year,” said McMillan, a dentist from Bristol. “We have audits to find where things need correcting and we’ve done that.”

McMillan maintained, though, that the agency overall is doing the job it was set up to do, which is manage wildlife. “We’ve got elk, geese, sandhill cranes. It’s like the good ole days,” he told TNReport this week, adding the agency manages the wildlife of Tennessee on a balanced budget.

However, one of TWRA’s most vocal critics in the Tennessee General Assembly, Strawberry Plains Republican Sen. Frank Niceley, said the audit is proof positive the agency’s leadership needs an overhaul.

“What people need to realize is, the TWRA is set up as a free-standing agency,” Niceley said in an phone interview with TNReport Tuesday. “It is the only agency that is set up that way. It was done as an experiment in the ‘70s and it has failed.”

Nicely noted that some of the issues found by the Comptroller have been found in the past and not corrected.

“Management has not been managing. They are having a big party on the sportsman’s dime,” Niceley said. He said he has no problem with the mission of the TWRA, he just wants to see it more efficiently run.

“It needs new management,” Niceley said. “It needs a commissioner (who should) answer to a standing committee.”

McMillan defended his volunteer post, saying the commission is removed from politics. “You get a non-political opinion on what needs to be done with wildlife,” he said.

In addition to failing to rigorously monitor purchases with state money made by employees, the audit found problems in how TWRA manages state-owned equipment, crop leases and computer security.

The audit found the agency doesn’t always carefully track equipment and suggested an annual inventory of the approximately $35.5 million worth of TWRA-owned guns, vehicles, boats and tractors. Auditors found not all state property was sufficiently documented and lost items were not always reported correctly or in a timely manner.

“Due to the sensitive nature of these items and the decentralized nature of the agency’s operations, it is critical that TWRA maintains proper internal controls over equipment,” the audit said.

The audit, which can be read in full here, also reported:

  • TWRA did not oversee crop leases properly, which increases the chances of lost revenue for the agency
  • It did not enforce its conflict-of-interest policies; and
  • It did not always protect its Remote Easy Access Licensing (REAL) computer system, which could open the agency to hackers.

Excess Sandhill Crane Hunting Permits Available Oct. 16

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; October 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE — Leftover permits from Saturday’s drawing to participate in Tennessee’s first sandhill crane hunt will be available on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the four regional offices of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

There are 134 permits available following Saturday’s hand-held permit drawing held at the Birchwood Community Center in north Hamilton County. The remaining permits are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the four TWRA regional offices beginning at 9 a.m. EDT in Region IV and 8.a.m CDT at the three other regional offices.

The regional offices are located in Jackson (I), Nashville (II), Crossville (III), and Morristown (IV).

A total of 400 permits were available for the initial draw. Each permit carries a limit of three birds. Participants must have a Type 001 hunt/fish license plus a Type 005 waterfowl license or equivalent.

All sandhill crane permit holders must pass an internet-based crane identification test before hunting. All permits issued are not valid until a verifiable “Sandhill Test” validation code is written on the permit. The purpose of this test is to improve hunter’s awareness and ability to distinguish between sandhill cranes and protected species which may be encountered while hunting. The test is now available online.

The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established a limited sandhill crane hunting season for a designated area in East Tennessee. The sandhill crane hunting season begins with the late waterfowl season on Nov. 28 and runs through Jan. 1, 2014.

TWRA Announces Closure of Federal Public Lands in TN

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; October 1, 2013:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is informing sportsmen that due to the federal governmental shutdown on Oct. 1, several federal public lands have been impacted.

All Tennessee national wildlife refuges, including Tennessee and Cross Creeks, are now closed. The permitted hunts will be canceled and the refuges will be closed to all public use. All refuge boat ramps are closed and refuges are closed to all fishing.

All refuge roads, observation decks, and hiking trails are closed to all access. All refuge offices and visitor centers are closed.

Land Between the Lakes remains open to hunting, back country camping, and hiking. However, all facilities that are normally staffed are closed. The process of evacuating all paid campgrounds is underway. The visitor centers are closed. Persons in need of a hunting permit will need to purchase those online or at a license agent other than the LBL visitor centers.

In regard to other areas, Fort Campbell hunting and fishing remains open at this time. Big South Fork is closed to the public. On both the North and South units of the Cherokee National Forest, all gates that are open will remain open although some campgrounds and restroom facilities may not be available.

The closures have come due to the lapse in appropriated funds, affecting all public lands managed by the Department of the Interior (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.). For more information, FAQs, and updates, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

Persons interested in visiting federal lands and facilities are advised to monitor media outlets for further and updated information.

TWRA Seeking Public Comments on 2014-15 Fishing Regs

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; August 26, 2013:

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Fisheries Division announced its proposed 2014-15 sport fish and commercial fishing regulation changes during the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission’s August meeting. TWRA Fisheries Division Chief Bobby Wilson made the proposals at the Aug. 22-23 meeting of the TFWC held in Knoxville.

The public is invited to provide comments on the 2014-15 proposals. The comment period for the commercial fishing regulations will be until Sept. 18. The deadline for the sport fishing comments is Oct. 10. Comments may be sent to TWRA.Comment@tn.gov, or TWRA, Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204. Please include “2014 Fish Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.

The TFWC will vote on the commercial fishing proposals at its Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville. The sport fish regulations will be voted on the TFWC’s meeting to be held Oct. 17-18 in Kingsport. If approved, the changes would become effective March 1, 2014.

2014-15 Sport Fishing Proposals:

Statewide:

Crayfish: Proposal would establish the harvest of crayfish as food. Currently, crayfish may be taken from most waters except for those already restricted under the live bait proclamation.

Region I:

Kentucky Lake: Increase the minimum length on sauger from 14 to 15 inches.
Maples Creek and Brown’s Creek lakes: Decrease the minimum length limit on crappie from 10 to 8 inches.

Region II:

Woodhaven Lake (Montgomery Bell State Park): Remove the no harvest restriction on largemouth bass, allowing 5 bass per day with no length limit. (same as statewide)

Region III:

Caney Fork Watershed (Center Hill Reservoir, Great Falls Reservoir, Calfkiller, Collins, Caney Fork, and Rocky rivers): Increase the minimum length on muskellunge from 36 to 50 inches.

Big Lost, Goforth, Spring, Greasy, Tumbling, and Turtletown creeks (Polk County): All these creeks will be closed on Friday from March 1 through June 1 (previously July 1).
Cherokee Reservoir: Change the paddlefish snagging season from March 1-15 to April 1-15.

Fort Loudoun, Melton Hill, and Chilhowee reservoirs: Change walleye and sauger restrictions. Currently walleye and sauger have a 15-inch minimum length limit with a creel limit of 10 in combination. The new regulations will follow the statewide regulation for each species (walleye 5 per day, 16-inch length limit; sauger 10 per day, 15-inch minimum length limit).

Rocky Fork: Define the Wild Trout Regulation section as upstream of Rocky Fork Road and State Park Entrance Road Junction.

2014-15 Commercial Fishing Proposals:

Define and add Beech River to the Rivers Section that is open to commercial fishing. This area is currently open but the description is not clear.

Add “turtle traps” to the list of gears that will be allowed to be fished in the creeks and and embayments on Kentucky Lake in April and May.

List the 14 species of turtles are currently allowed to be harvested at the Reelfoot La

Delete the word “inlet” from the description of closed areas.

Define the season for turtle harvests as the months of March through October.

Change hoop net definition to allow for the use of hoop nets with a mesh size of 1 inch and larger and not allow the use of wings or leads. Also, there will no longer be a closed season on using hoop nets. In addition, restrict the mesh size on wings and leads to one inch or smaller for fyke nets, tap nets, and pound nets.

TWRA Announces 2013-14 Wildlife Calendar Photo Contest Winners

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; May 1, 2013:

NASHVILLE — The winning entries for the 2013-14 Tennessee Wildlife magazine photo contest have been selected by staff members of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The selections will be unveiled in the annual calendar issue of the magazine which will be available in early July.

The staff selected the winning photographs from hundreds of submissions and had the challenge to narrow the entries to 13 photos that will appear in the calendar issue. The 2013-14 calendar issue will begin with the month of August.

The photographers, who have entries that will appear in the 2013-14 calendar, are Rhonda McClure (Kingston), Cecil (Cal) Calloway (Murfreesboro), David Mayes (Pulaski), Bruce Cole (Kingsport), Ryan Yoder (Maryville), Ralph Hensley (Hiltons, Va.), Sam Hobbs (Goodspring), and John Hoffman (Memphis).

The staff of Tennessee Wildlife offers congratulations to all of our winners and reminds photographers that if your photo was not chosen this year, your next year’s entry could be a winner. Rules and deadlines for the 2014-15 Tennessee Wildlife photo contest will appear in the fall and winter issues of the magazine and also in the fall on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s website, www.tnwildlife.org. Photographers will again be invited to submit their best photos on fishing and wildlife species native to the Volunteer State, and fishing and hunting scenes in Tennessee.

Tennessee Wildlife is an official publication of the TWRA.

TWRA Seeking Public Comments on 2013-14 Hunting Season Regulations

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; January 16, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is soliciting comments for its 2013-14 hunting seasons’ regulations. This is an opportunity for the public to provide ideas and share concerns about hunting regulations with TWRA staff.

Public comments will be considered by TWRA’s Wildlife Division staff and may be presented as proposals for regulation changes. Comments may be submitted by mail to: 2013-14 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife and Forestry Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204 or emailed to twra.comment@tn.gov. Please include “Hunting Season Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.

The comment period concerning the 2013-14 hunting season regulations began on Jan. 15, 2013 and will be open until Monday, Feb. 25.

TN Fish, Wildlife Commission Returns to 2-Day Meeting Format for 1st Meeting of 2013

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; January 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Jan. 17-18 at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Region II Ray Bell Building with a variety of items.

The commission meeting is returning to the traditional two-day format from a one day meeting that was previously announced at the final meeting of 2012. The commission meeting will open with committee meetings at 1 p.m. on Thursday (Jan. 17) while the formal session is at 9 a.m. on Friday (Jan. 18).

Among the agenda items on the first meeting of the year will be a report of the wild hog control season on Catoosa WMA by TWRA Region III Wildlife Program Coordinator Kirk Miles. The report will include participation estimates and the number of hogs that have been taken.

The Tennessee black bear hunting season recently concluded. The commission will hear a summary of the 2012 season.

A history of the TWRA’s big game check-in process will be made. The check-in system provides TWRA biologists accurate and useful harvest information. In addition to providing the harvest data, the check-in system also attempts to make the check-in process user friendly and satisfy the needs of sportsmen.

Prior to the commission meeting, a public meeting is being held (Tuesday, Jan. 16) concerning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed closure of tailwaters on the Cumberland River and its tributaries to boating traffic. An overview of the meeting will be given. The TWRA was voiced opposition to the closure.

The TWRA, in cooperation with other agencies, began a reintroduction of the lake sturgeon to the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Jason Henegar, TWRA Statewide River and Streams Coordinator, will report results from the monitoring effort that have generated data about fish growth, movement patterns and survivability.

In other agenda items, there will be a presentation from the public regarding an off-highway vehicle program.

Don King, TWRA Information and Education Division Chief, will have a preview of the recently completed Charlie Daniels Public Service Announcements. Kirk Miles will give a preview of the 2013 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival to be held Jan. 19-20 at the Hiwassee Refuge.

TWRA to Help Host 2013 TN Sandhill Crane Festival

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; January 9, 2012:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will be among organizations set to host the 2013 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival to be held on Jan. 19-20 at the Hiwassee Refuge and in the community of Birchwood. This will be the 22nd anniversary for the event which will run from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.

The Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival is a celebration of the thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate through or spend the winter on and around the Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood. It is also an opportunity to focus attention on the rich wildlife heritage of the state and the Native American history of the area.

“If you enjoy National Geographic magazine’s photos and educational TV programs, then you can experience the wonder of Tennessee wildlife by watching not only thousands of sandhill cranes, but also see endangered whooping cranes, bald and golden eagles, and a variety of other native wildlife species at the Hiwassee Refuge,” said Dan Hicks Region III I&E Coordinator and festival committee chairman. “In addition to the wildlife viewing, there are also other activities for the entire family.”

Beginning in the early 1990s, the recovering population of eastern sandhill cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Refuge on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. TWRA has been managing this refuge for over 60 years for waterfowl, and the cranes found a perfect combination of feeding and shallow water roosting habitat. Now as many as 12,000 of these birds spend the entire winter at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers.

Along with the opportunity to view the birds during the festival, special programs will also be held throughout each day at the Birchwood Elementary School and Cherokee Removal Memorial. The festival website is www.TNcranefestival.org.

The Birchwood Elementary School will be a focal point during the festival, providing parking for shuttle transportation to the refuge. In addition, overflow parking will be available at Birchwood Baptist Church. Shuttle buses will run continuously from the school and church throughout the day to both the refuge and Cherokee Memorial. The refuge will only be accessible by shuttle bus with the exception of handicap parking and event workers’ permits.

A full schedule of entertainment and various programs will be held at the school. The school gymnasium will host children’s activities, vendors, festival sponsor exhibits, and entertainment. The school library will offer continuous films and presentations about Tennessee wildlife.

Among the presentations will be by naturalist and storyteller Brian “Fox” Ellis who will perform different programs each day during the festival at Birchwood School. The American Eagles Foundation, based in Pigeon Forge, will make its popular presentation featuring raptors that have undergone rehabilitation. Musical performances will include TWRA’s Chief of Information and Education Don King. Area traditional authority Tom Morgan, along with Lynne Haas and Ray Branham will perform traditional western and bluegrass songs.

A variety of vendors will be on hand selling a wide-range of items. Food service will be available each day in the Birchwood School’s cafeteria.

The nearby Cherokee Removal Memorial will host Native American performances and demonstrations on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Hiwassee Refuge comprises about 6,000 acres. The Birchwood School is only three miles from the wildlife-viewing site at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. The Cherokee Removal Memorial is found just to the side of the refuge near the Tennessee River.

Sponsors for the free family event are the Tennessee Ornithological Society, and the Mapp Foundation in partnership with TWRA, the Birchwood Community, the Birchwood School, the Cherokee Removal Memorial, Blue Moon Cruises, Olin Chemicals Corp., Meigs and Rhea County Tourism.

For more information, contact Sandhill Crane Festival committee member Melinda Welton of the Tennessee Ornithological Society at (615) 799-8095.

TWRA to Offer Boating Safety Class at Nashville Boat & Sportshow

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; January 8, 2012:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is offering a boating safety class in conjunction with the 2013 Nashville Boat and Sportshow on Saturday, Jan. 12 at the Nashville Convention Center.

The class will be held from 8 a.m. until noon in room 102 of the convention center. Participants must have a Type 600 Exam Permit which cost $10 and can be purchased wherever hunting and fishing licenses are available. Participants must bring the permit with them to the class. Only Tennessee residents born after Jan. 1, 1989 need to purchase the Type 600 permit. Those who complete the course will be admitted to the Nashville Boat and Sportshow free of charge.

During the class, general information will be provided concerning boats and maintenance along with how to make the boating experience safer and more comfortable. Laws and regulations that must be followed and tips on being a more courteous vessel operator will also be given. The information typically applies to all vessels (powerboats, personal watercraft, and unpowered vessels such as canoes, sailboats, etc.).

Space will be limited for the class. Registration may be made by going to the Nashville Boat and Sportshow website (www.nashvilleboatshow.com) under the show highlights section.

The TWRA will again have an exhibit at this year’s show and it will be located in booth 119. Beginning on Friday afternoon, Jan. 11, and continuing through the show’s conclusion on Sunday, Jan. 13, the TWRA will be pre-selling 2013-14 hunting and fishing licenses as well as offering the opportunity for boating registration renewal. The show begins on Thursday, Jan. 10.

TWRA to Sponsor ‘Outdoors-Woman Muzzleloader Workshop’ in Humphreys Co.

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Wildlife Resources; October 8, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — The 2012 Beyond Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Muzzleloader Workshop will be sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Nov. 9-11 in Humphreys County.

Female hunters 18 and older will have the opportunity to learn about hunting deer during a weekend with like-minded individuals. The private farm for the event incorporates a variety of wildlife management practices and totals more than 2,000 acres of prime deer habitat. Along with the hunts, a variety of topics such as deer biology and management, and hunting ethics will also be covered.

Registration for the workshop is on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, two weeks priority will be given to first-time participants. The cost of the workshop is $175, which includes meals and camping, if participants wish to camp. Campers must provide their own gear. A list of local hotels will be included with the registration packet.

Workshop participants are required to have the appropriate licenses. Participants born on or after Jan. 1, 1969 will need to have successfully completed the hunter education course. Participants will draw from a number of predetermined sites that will have tree stands.

For an application, open the attachment below. For more information, contact Donald Hosse, TWRA Wildlife Education Program Coordinator, at Don.Hosse@tn.gov or (615) 781-6541.

Application.