Fall is finally here and lots of outdoors-men and women in East Tennessee are looking forward to the hunting seasons that come with it.
One of the most popular spots in the state for hunting is the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Cumberland and Morgan Counties. But this year some hunters are concerned by the way portions of this prime piece of public hunting land have been chopped down.
"I've hunted here since I was about 13-years-old. Next week archery season starts and I've been really looking forward to it," said Bo Brown of Rockwood. "Then you see these areas that are just logged and ruined. This is statewide land. It's public hunting land. And look at it, it's gone. It's destroyed."
Brown said he and other hunters have been disturbed by large portions of land that have been logged on Mt. Roosevelt and the Catoosa WMA.
"This is a clearcut. I mean, why do this? There's questions about who is doing it. Where's the money going? I mean, it needs to be stopped. Right now I've got petitions going to stop it. I've talked to biologists who say there is some benefit to this, but that just does not pan out. There is no way this is any good for hunting deer or turkey. They've chopped all of this down and it will be so thick with briers and thickets you can never get in there."
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) says there has been a relatively greater amount of visible logging at Catoosa this year. TWRA said it hired a contractor to salvage lumber from a large stretch of trees that were destroyed by the Rinnie tornado in 2012.
"We opened bits for a contractor to clean out that area and salvage the lumber as opposed to just letting the trees sit there and rot," said Dan Hicks, TWRA spokesperson.
Hicks said TWRA has been logging parts of Catoosa to benefit wildlife for 30 years.
"We cut trees on Catoosa to create openings. A number of different types of environments are necessary for all of these animals to coexist on a piece of land like this. You want a variety of young, medium, and old trees of all sizes," said Hicks.
Tennessee Wildlife says it has logged pockets of Catoosa for 30 years. Without cutting and managing certain areas, Hicks said the forest would eventually become land dominated by "senior citizen" trees that produce less mast.
"Sometimes we get complaints from people because the area that was cut down was someone's favorite hunting spot. But by cutting these woods each year, we not only are able to generate funds for the agency, but we're also creating a habitat that otherwise would not exist. We have created an area that is one of the most diverse for neo-tropical migratory birds in all of the Southeast," said Hicks.
Hunters like Brown say whatever the justification, the logging has cut into their opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
"I don't think some of these clearcut areas are going to be any good during my lifetime. You also have so many people who want to hunt and less land to do it. These public hunting lands like Catoosa are so important to us and we don't want to see it destroyed by logging," said Brown.
TWRA said it has logged pockets of land totaling 6,300 acres in the Catoosa WMA since 1983. There are approximately 80,000 acres in the Catoosa WMA.