Audit reveals issues for TWRA, but it could be worse

A just-released audit by the Tennessee State Comptroller's Office reveals problems for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. However issues in this audit do not seem as dire as problems found in previous audits. (Images: TWRA Facebook page / MGN)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has not updated the state’s endangered species list in 16 years, although it is required to do so every 2 years according to state law.

That was one of several findings in a report just released by the Tennessee State Comptroller's office.

Every state agency is routinely audited by the comptroller's office. It is all part of the continuing "checks & balances" we call democracy. It is the job of an auditor to do his or her best to poke into every nook and cranny, trying to reveal cracks and flaws in the system. Whenever their reports are released, they often read like gloom and doom. Based on previous TWRA audits I've read, however, the Agency fared well this time around.

In 2007 TWRA got lambasted by auditors after, "A wildlife supervisor authorized two workers to take sick days so they could do private work for him."

In 2009 auditors found that, "TWRA has little oversight and control over cooperative farming contracts, in spite of the fact that state auditors pointed out the same problem in two previous audits, and TWRA officials agreeing that improvements would be made."

Not mentioned in any other news report I've read about the most recent audit to date is that, "The agency has corrected all prior audit findings, including those related to state payment cards, equipment, crop leases, conflicts of interest, and Remote Easy Access Licensing System computer access."

"Endangered species" is a great catch phrase and any mention of any failure in that regard implies horrific things for our state's most imperiled wildlife. Read deeper into the comptroller's audit however and one finds no failure in actually caring for endangered species. Only that it has failed to cut through the federal red tape involved in documenting how it is managing endangered species. In fact the Agency was already aware of the problem had already begun the process of correcting the issue long before auditors showed up.

In concurring with the findings of auditors, TWRA blames at least part of the delay on federal bureaucracy. Agency officials write, "The state [endangered species] plan was rewritten, updated, and gained federal approval in January of this year. The lapse in updating the current list was greatly influenced by the Federal mandate for each state to develop a State Wildlife Action Plan for non-game animals. The plan took two years to develop and had to be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

In their audit response they add, "It is important to note that TWRA has developed an aquatic imperiled species hatchery and has successfully reared a number of threatened and endangered species mussels and fish and has returned them to the wild."

The audit also discusses the following issues: Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and the CWD Response Plan; Citation Fines Received by the Agency; Contract Monitoring; Brandt Information Services for Licenses and Registration; Animal Disease Testing; Non-motorized Boats—Emerging Issue; and Fisheries Division Hatcheries.

Again in most cases auditors highlighted issues Agency officials were already well aware of. In many cases, such as citation fines and non-motorized boats, TWRA is at the mercy of other government entities and/or lawmakers.

So in the most recent audit - in my humble opinion and based upon previous audits - TWRA came out smelling like a rose, in spite of headlines you might read elsewhere.

Read the full audit below:

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