Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission meets December 7-8, 2023, Gatlinburg – Margaritaville

By Charlotte Underwood 

JACKSBORO, TN (WLAF) – The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) has announced that the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission (TFWC) has postponed a vote on its proposed changes to Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) rules and fees on Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) “until further notice.” 

The vote would have taken place at the upcoming TFWC meeting in December at Gatlinburg, however, the agency has put the vote off to gather more data.

The proposal included an increase in permitting fees for both residents and non residents, which would be used to help maintain and manage the OHV trails.

The biggest change proposed by TWRA would require each occupant of a vehicle to have a permit. Currently, only one person in each vehicle is required to have a permit. 

An increase in off-highway vehicle use, specifically on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area has the TWRA trying to find “a path forward” that will work for OHV enthusiasts, while also protecting the natural resources of the WMA that are affected by OHV use, which cause “erosion and land degradation” and “impaction on wildlife.”

The North Cumberland WMA consists of almost 200,000 acres stretching across Scott, Morgan, Anderson, Campbell and Claiborne counties.

The TWRA had publicly proposed changes to the current OHV license and permit rule last month  during the October TFWC commission meeting. 

However, during the public notice period, the agency “received a high volume of public comments outlining concerns from local businesses, residents and non resident OHV enthusiasts.”

According to the press release, “TWRA is committed to stakeholder engagement and has postponed the proposed rule pending review and evaluation of stakeholder comments and to provide for further data collection.”

The TWRA press release goes on to state that “Per TCA 70-9-106, it is the intent if the Tennessee General Assembly that the off-highway vehicle program be self funded. Large increases in OHV use on North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area have resulted in increased erosion, land degradation, and impact on wildlife species. TWRA will need to follow through on changes to fees and rules in coming months to generate revenue to better fund much-needed restoration work, trail management and law enforcement. Revenue generated from fees will be directed specifically to OHV management.”

According to the TWRA, “agency leadership is optimistic about developing an effective path forward for OHV use which will support local economic development and tourism without jeopardizing the integrity and sustainability of the natural resources the TWRA is mandated to protect and preserve. We will continue to engage stakeholders until a new proposal is presented for a TFWC vote in 2024.”

The proposed OHV rule and fee change was a hot button topic at last week’s Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA) meeting, with various citizens and stakeholders expressing concerns about the TWRA’s proposed changes. 

Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association chairman Bill Stanley said CORA has been “totally invested in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area since it assisted TWRA in aquiring the property and that CORA has worked hard for 30 years to protect this resource.”

According to Stanley, the issue is a complex one with multiple view points. 

He said he did not speak for the board, and that CORA as a board was in the midst of evaluating the TWRA’s recommendations and would prepare statements to be submitted to the agency.

Stanley also invited anyone who wants to have input in CORA’s statements to attend CORA meetings, which take place the first Tuesday of the month at 7 pm in the lower level courtroom of the Campbell County Courthouse. 

“We want to make sure that the comments are well thought out and focus on protecting the resource and the rights of all stakeholders relative to the WMA,” Stanley said.

According to Stanley, as well as public record of various county government meetings, the issue of OHV trail over-use/lack of funding has been building for several years now. The lack of funding to provide adequate law enforcement in the WMA has been a topic of conversation at county commission meetings more than once.

“The issue has been building for years; we have over use issues, we have behavioral problems, we have trash issues, trail management and more. The WMA definitely needs more funding to care for the trails and make it a better experience. We need to take a step back and make decisions based on fact, but also look at what’s going to be important in the future. It’s a huge economic driver in the area, but it needs to be cared for so all the users can benefit from the WMA, not only the riders, but the hikers, and the hunters and others; it’s a multi-use area,” Stanley said. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 11/20/2023-6AM)