Tennessee is one of the most bio-diverse states in the nation. Currently there are 315 species of fish, 77 mammals, 56 reptiles, 70 amphibians, and 340+ birds known to inhabit or migrate through Tennessee. The number of invertebrate species, many of which are endemic to Tennessee, is equally impressive with 256 land snails, 99 aquatic snails, 120+ mussels, 77 crayfish and many insects. Conserving this assemblage of biodiversity in the wake of economic growth and ever-changing landscapes requires funding at the state and federal level. Traditionally, conservation funding has been raised through hunting fees and excise taxes associated with game species. Although conservation of game species has been very successful, many nongame species are without dedicated conservation funding at the federal level and, therefore, at risk of becoming rare, threatened or endangered.
Recognition of the gap in conservation funding and the associated risks to nongame wildlife led to the introduction of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) into congress in 2000. The provisions of CARA provided $350 million in annual funding to be dispersed among the 50 states for wildlife conservation, recreation and education programs. CARA was considered the most important wildlife conservation funding legislation to be introduced in 50 years, and although it rallied tremendous bipartisan support it was not enacted into law.
Undaunted, wildlife coalitions such as Teaming With Wildlife and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies pushed for legislation that would provide adequate, predictable funding for conservation programs. In 2001, the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Act (WCRP) and the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) programs were enacted into law. Together WCRP ($50 million) and SWG ($25 million) provided $75 million dollars in conservation funding, $841,000 of which was allocated to Tennessee. In 2002, the monies allocated for SWG increased to $85 million, increasing Tennessee’s share to $1,354,020. Tennessee was allocated $999,624 and $1,606,816 from SWG funds in 2003 and 2004, respectively, received approximately $1 million from SWG in 2005.
To ensure conservation programs funded by SWG are designed for maximum benefits to nongame wildlife, Congress mandated that all states must complete a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) by October 1, 2005. The SWAP addresss 8 elements required by Congress for each plan and will be reviewed every 10 years. The primary goal of the SWAP will be to prevent wildlife from declining to the point of endangerment. This goal will be achieved by engaging a broad array of partners in the development process including other government agencies, conservation groups, private landowners, the public, and anyone else who has a stake in fish and wildlife management. It is the intent that the strategic plans from the states will collectively create a nationwide approach to wildlife conservation and turn the tide of species decline.