The answer was the focus of a recent presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland
TWRA district Sgts. Ben Davis and Chris Combs presented information and photos from their on-the-job experiences. Davis oversees Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe Counties. Combs oversees Meigs, Hamilton, Rhea and Roane Counties.
Officers enforce hunting, boating and wildlife laws.
“We are state-commissioned and federally-commissioned wildlife officers,” Combs said.
He said this is because of the federally administered lands such as national forests their jobs take them into and the subsequent jurisdictional issues involving the laws they enforce.
“We run into a variety of things. Sometimes we run into illegal marijuana patches in the woods,” Combs said.
Enforcement officers often find themselves dealing with other illegal issues, such as drug use, when they initially are investigating a wildlife-related issue.
“We have a lot of paperwork,” Combs said of his position. “But we do still have the responsibility of enforcement in our own counties.”
Wildlife calls have often turned up interesting finds. In Bradley County, officers have been called on to handle an alligator and a venomous snake in people’s homes. Combs said these animals have often been found in the homes of those who were doing illegal drugs.
Davis said a rhinoceros viper was found in someone’s home.
“It’s from somewhere in Africa; it’s highly venomous. They said you would just have a matter of minutes ... if it was to inject you [before you would become] incapacitated,” Davis said.
A zoo in Chicago had to be contacted to obtain antivenom for the snake before they could go in to remove the reptile.
Wild hogs, not native to this region, are an issue the TWRA is also working to address.
“They are a problem in several counties in our district,” Combs said.
He said that getting rid of these animals has fallen to the TWRA after Tennessee regulations were changed to end hunting of the species. Combs explained wild hogs were once considered a “huntable game species” but legislation has changed this.
The hogs are creating issues for grain farmers.
Davis said there are other animals people tend to hunt too much. Regulations restricting when such species can be hunted have been put in place in an effort to address the issue.
Paddlefish is one such species. The officers said this is because selling the roe of the fish is profitable.
“It’s real similar to beluga caviar the way it tastes,” Davis said. He estimated that a pound of the fish eggs would sell for $300.
Combs said paddlefish are common in Lake Chickamauga.
“They are in the catfish family,” Combs said.
The officers emphasized it was commercial fishing, not recreational, which presented a problem in this case.
The TWRA is also the entity that investigates boating and hunting accidents.
Officers also teach hunting, fishing and archery classes, as well as holding student dove hunts.
Combs told the audience not to pick up fawns that they see on the side of the road.
“That’s one of the worst things possibly you can do,” Combs said.
He said often the mother is hiding because of roadway traffic and will return for the young deer later. People should never take a fawn home as a pet. It is illegal and unhealthy for the animal, according to Combs.
“Sometimes we can’t reintroduce them and we have to euthanize them,” Comb said.
The TWRA is funded through fees collected from hunting and fishing licenses. Officers are required to have a college degree in Wildlife and fishery science. They are also required to attend the police academy.