Created in 1974 through a reorganization of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Commission (TWRA) is the latest of several attempts by the State of Tennessee to protect adequately native and game animals. Initial efforts began in 1870 with the passage of an act to protect fisheries. In the late 1880s, exploration of game and market hunting of quail were forbidden, although many counties exempted themselves from these state laws. In 1903 the general assembly declared all game animals and fish the property of the state and named Joseph Acklen the first state game warden. Two years later, the general assembly established the Game, Fish and Forestry Department and in 1907, set the first hunting license fees, with payment optional. In 1915 the legislature reorganized the agency and created the Department of Game and Fish.
When the Department of Conservation was created in 1937, Game and Fish fell under its auspices, and its governing board was abolished. After citizen complaints of too much interference in wildlife management, Governor Prentice Cooper reestablished the Game and Fish Commission in 1939, but the agency was still attached to the Department of Conservation. Governor Gordon Browning established an independent Tennessee Game and Fish Commission in 1949. This independent commission was a result in part of efforts by the Tennessee Federation of Sportsmen and its successor, the Tennessee Conservation League, whose members wanted to free Game and Fish from political control and the practice of patronage in hiring game wardens.
In 1971 the public and media attacked the commission, charging it with fiscal extravagance and denouncing its support for the affluent rather than the common hunter. In 1973 Governor Winfield Dunn appointed a special study committee to evaluate the commission’s future. In April 1974 the general assembly reorganized the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission into the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, with oversight by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission. In another major change, the agency was divided into a central office in Nashville and four regional offices in Jackson, Nashville, Crossville, and Talbott.
In 1997 TWRA employed more than five hundred professionals in wildlife management and was directed by a thirteen-member commission of private citizens appointed by the governor. License and permit fees largely fund the agency. TWRA enforces hunting, fishing, and boating laws, manages wildlife areas for game and nongame species, provides hunting and boating education, and works on wetlands protection. Its mission is the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of Tennessee’s fish and wildlife for the enjoyment of all Tennesseans and visitors.