October 31, 2018
By Michael Butler
The race for governor is on. Both Karl Dean and Bill Lee are crisscrossing the state talking about the many challenges facing Tennessee and the opportunities to make the state a better place to live. However, one of the biggest issues affecting how Tennesseans live, work and play—particularly those in the state’s beautiful rural areas—is rarely mentioned. Tennessee’s wildlife and wild places.
Our great outdoors directly supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state. Outdoor recreation in Tennessee generates an estimated $21.6 billion in consumer spending every year. Even the most remote counties in the state see a $1 million tourism economic impact. This economic activity is driven by Tennessee’s incredible natural resources: our wildlife, tens of thousands of miles of streams, hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes and reservoirs, low-lying wetlands, and rugged mountains. Beyond the money, countless Tennesseans personally value these resources. It’s what carries our hunting and fishing traditions from one generation to the next. It’s what makes our weekend adventures in the wild. Even if you rarely go outside, wildlife and other natural resources impact the air you breathe and the water you drink.
Despite all this, the candidates for governor rarely address how they will support conservation of wildlife and the great outdoors in Tennessee. These resources aren’t here by accident. It took thousands of conservationists decades of work to restore Tennessee to the state we enjoy today. If it’s not a priority, we could lose it again. Tennessee Wildlife Federation was founded by people with diverse interests—from hunters to outdoors writers. But they came together around a single idea: wildlife and wild places should be conserved for themselves and the next generation.
We must continue to move forward. That requires those running for public office to share their ideas and plans for wildlife and our great outdoors. In doing this, the candidates can elevate these issues to the level of importance they currently occupy across Tennessee.
Nearly 60 percent of Tennesseans participate in outdoor recreation each year—from hunting to birding to paddling to hiking. Among voters, 66 percent hold a hunting and fishing license. Regardless of how we enjoy the great outdoors, we can agree they need to be conserved. So, contact the campaigns on social media, through email, by phone, and at their events. Use your voice even before election day. Ask the candidates how they plan to make wildlife a priority in their administration. For tools to make reaching the campaigns quick and easy, visit tnwf.org/Vote2018.
Michael Butler is the CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation, one of the largest and oldest organizations in Tennessee dedicated to the conservation of the state’s wildlife.