To conserve game animals for hunting, local sportsmen organized clubs in Tennessee as early as 1865, beginning with the McRae Club of Chattanooga. The first statewide organization, the Tennessee Federation of Sportsmen, was formed in 1934 to marshal local clubs into advocacy for conservation programs; the organization became the Tennessee Wildlife Federation in 1937. With the establishment of the Tennessee Department of Conservation that same year, the state assumed much of the work of the federation, and by 1940 the organization ended. Most conservation activity slowed during World War II, although the Tennessee Outdoors Writers Association was established in 1942.
In 1945 the Tennessee Wildlife Federation attempted to reorganize, and in January 1946 the sportsmen received a charter for the Tennessee Conservation League (TCL). Louis V. Williams, an outdoor writer for the Chattanooga Times, was elected its first president. The purpose of the TCL included not only wildlife conservation but natural resource conservation, especially in the areas of soil, water, and forests. Other leaders in the new league were Nathaniel T. Winston Sr., Z. Cartter Patten III, Nash Buckingham, and Walter Amann. Herman Baggenstoss, a stalwart of the earlier federations, soon joined forces with the league.
In 1949 the TCL produced model game and fish laws, which the state adopted; these state activities led to the creation of an independent Game and Fish Commission. In the 1950s the TCL became active in forest reclamation and in conservation education. In the 1960s the TCL attacked pesticide use, which killed small game, and planned the development of an umbrella environmental organization to provide information and advocacy on emerging environmental issues such as air and water pollution and energy conservation. The resulting Tennessee Environmental Council was chartered in December 1970.
In 1971 conservation leader Lucius Burch Jr. chaired a special committee to reorganize the TCL; the following year the league hired its first executive director, Anthony J. (Tony) Campbell (1972-92). In the mid-1970s the TCL worked for reorganization of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission into the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The TCL also developed a strong lobbying presence, leading efforts to require deposits on drink containers, ensure sound management of natural resources, and promote conservation education. It continued its advocacy for hunting, fishing, and conservation through the 1990s and issued the Tennessee Environmental Quality Index, an annual report examining the progress of the state’s environmental programs in preserving resources, from 1990 through 1993. Other projects included cosponsoring a biodiversity project focused on Neotropical migrant birds and evaluating the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s adherence to environmental regulations. In 1996 the Tennessee Environmental Boards Bill provided for a TCL appointee to the State Water Quality Control Board. Following its fiftieth anniversary, the TCL continued its work toward a future for Tennessee’s environment by opening the Lucius E. Burch Center for Conservation Planning in 1997.
Marge Davis, Sportsmen United: The Story of the Tennessee Conservation League (1997)