Chattanooga CPA, radio show host, tapped for Tennessee wildlife commission

Outdoor radio show host, financial professional for Unum and former Hamilton County Republican Party leader Tony Sanders has been appointed to serve on the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission, completing the term of David Watson with Mountain View Ford who resigned for health reasons. (Photos Contributed)

Tony Sanders, an outdoor radio show host and manager of financial benefits services for Unum, expects to be named as the new District 4 Commissioner on the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission. TFWC is the 13-member appointed body that governs the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and is responsible for all wildlife, fisheries and boating laws in Tennessee.

"Technically I am 'to be appointed," said Sanders. "I did receive a call from the Governor's office but I haven't received the official paperwork yet."

Sanders was trying to stay quiet about the expected appointment. However that changed Saturday when TN Dist. 9 Sen. Mike Bell called in to Sanders' radio show and publicly congratulated him on the appointment.

"I am pretty excited," said Sanders. "It's a chance to give back to the outdoor world that's been very good to me. It's a great opportunity to have an influence on the future for our kids, including my grandson, Hunter (pictured above)."

Sanders was appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to finish the remaining term of David Watson, part owner and executive with Mountain View Ford Lincoln, who resigned from the commission for health reasons. District 4 of the TFWC includes the ten southeast Tennessee counties. Sanders' term will last until 2021. He says he will not be immediately eligible for re-appointment.

Although TFWC appointments routinely come based upon political connections - and Sanders did serve as the head of Hamilton County's Republican Party for 4 years - Gov. Haslam would have been hard pressed to find a candidate with a more impressive outdoor resume.

Besides his fulltime job with Unum, Sanders has been the host of the Saturday morning "Tony Sanders Outdoors" radio show on WGOW for ten years. The NRA "Life Member" serves on the State Executive Committee of Tennessee Friends of NRA. His Facebook page says he believes "the 2nd Amendment is the one that props up the rest."

He is also a member of the Tennessee Valley Chapter of Safari Club International, he founded the Tri-State Quail Forever chapter, and is a member of National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever and several other conservation organizations. He is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association.

Sanders is also a member of Highland Sportsman’s Club in Hixson, serving as the organization's president in 1998-1999. He has been a certified, extremely active, TWRA Hunter Education Instructor for more than 20 years. He's been recognized by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation as "Conservation Communicator of the Year (2010)" and "State Hunter Education Educator of the Year. (2001)."

"My outdoor resume started 25 years ago when I started in hunter education and getting kids involved," said Sanders. "This is an opportunity to continue that and maybe take it to a new level."

With his experience in politics, hunting & fishing and his strong financial background, Sanders brings diverse experience to TFWC.

"I would think my financial background has got to come in to play," said the certified CPA. But I have no idea what they'll ask me to do from a committee standpoint."

Sanders admits that on some occasions, his role as an outdoor journalist could conflict with his role as a commissioner.

"There may be times when there may be [subjects] I won't bring up," admitted Sanders. "But I don't do much hard, investigative news. My show is more about information and entertainment."

But people who call in to Sanders' live radio show can broach any subject they wish.

"If that happens, there may be things that come up and I'll just have to not discuss them," he said.

If all the official paperwork gets done, Sanders' first TFWC meeting will likely be in Dayton on May 23-24. It's an important meeting as commissioners will be voting on the 2017-2018 hunting seasons and regulations. While there are relatively few proposed changes in seasons and regulations, some hunters are expected to be there lobbying for a change in the current legal definition of an antlered deer.

For decades a deer wasn't legally defined as a buck - counting against a hunter's bag limit - unless it had antlers a minimum of three inches long. But commissioners changed that definition last year, defining a buck as any deer that had any hard antler protruding through the hairline.

Many deer hunters all across the state have objected to the new rule and had hoped TWRA staff biologists would recommend going back to the old "3-inch" definition. They did not.

It would be a surprise if the subject doesn't come up in Dayton, however it remains to be seen if any commissioner will propose an amendment for a change. Read more here.

Sanders said, "I've talked to more people who did not have a problem with the new rule than those that do. People don't bring it up on the show very often. I don't know that I've made up my mind."

That is not an uncommon answer anytime a journalist asks a commissioner his or her opinion prior to a meeting. But Sanders swears it's the truth.

One thing Sanders did share an opinion on is TWRA's ability to communicate with the public. He sees it as the biggest area where the wildlife agency needs to improve.

"I think [they need to improve] communication as whole," he said. "We get press releases and stuff. But communicating to the public and the stakeholders is very important and I want to see that improve."

Sanders recognizes, however, that he is just one voice out of 13.

"Other folks from across the state may have different concerns," he said. "It takes seven votes to get anything done. I've got to focus on the bigger picture. Some people come on the commission trying to 'take over.' Others come on trying to work with the system. I plan on being the latter."

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