ROGERSVILLE — Ed Carter’s classmates at Rogersville High School named him “most likely to be the best forest ranger since Smokey the Bear” in his senior yearbook.
Little did they know he’d be named Tennessee’s No. 1 forest ranger 40 years later.
On Monday Carter, who grew up in the Pressman’s Home area of Hawkins County, began his tenure as executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He replaces Gary Myers, who held the position for 30 years.
Rogersville attorney Buddy Baird was among the 13-member Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission that voted Carter into the position.
“I fought very hard for him,” Baird told the Times-News Thursday. “It was not a very difficult choice for me. Ed has been in just about every department of the TWRA over the past 37 years, and he was just the man for the job.
“It was my understanding from the people in the agency that they would be very comfortable with Ed.”
Baird noted that this is a critical time for the TWRA with the number of hunters and fishermen on the decline, and expenses on the rise.
“Just like the rest of the state, we’re going to have to cut,” Baird said. “I just felt that Ed has the knowledge and the ability to work with people, and I know he’ll do a great job. He has big shoes to fill, but Ed can do it. I’ve talked to Gary Myers about it, and he feels the same way — that Ed will be able to guide us through this challenging time.”
Baird added, “We’ve done well with deer and turkey in the state, and now I think we need to concentrate on our fisheries and our small game initiative, and I think Ed and the commissioners are on the same page with that.”
Carter began his career with the TWRA in 1972, working his way though several positions including education representative, hunter education coordinator, acting chief of the Information and Education Division, education and law enforcement training officer, and a Region II assistant regional manager.
In 1990, Carter was named TWRA’s chief of the Boating Division, which he held until being named director.
Carter told the Times-News Thursday his attention in these first days as executive director is on evaluating existing programs and looking for places to cut. Carter said he’s anticipating funding cuts from the state, so there will have to be some difficult decisions made in coming months.
“Gary Myers is a hard act to follow,” Carter said. “He’s built a legacy of leaving public land for people to recreate, especially hunting and fishing. With the way the economy is going and the fact that we have a declining number of hunters and fishermen, I’m afraid that we’ll be stuck with looking at a lot of funding situations just to keep us afloat.
“It’s pretty obvious that if the funding base is going down and the expenses are going up, something has to give.”
In his first staff meeting Monday, Carter asked his department heads to begin looking at programs. He said if the impending financial crunch is as bad as anticipated, he’ll choose to keep programs that are of greatest benefit to the public.
He said the TWRA has already cut personnel at a greater percentage than any other division in the state, so job cuts probably aren’t going to be feasible.
There’s probably going to be a “reorganization” of duties among existing TWRA staff members, Carter added.
“There are a few programs that are sacred right now, and we’re certainly not going to drop anything that’s really critical to the management of any individual species,” Carter said. “We may have to cut back on some of our research programs if we can utilize past data without hurting where we’re headed. Our information and education programs have already been scaled back significantly, and we really feel like the education side of wildlife management is important so that the public understands what we’re doing and our overall goals.
“We’re really looking across the board at things we can and can’t do.”
Carter describes this time in the history of the TWRA as “the perfect storm.”
Aside from funding cuts, there are currently two independent agencies conducting studies on the TWRA as to what the agency does right and what it does wrong. Both studies will be presented to the General Assembly for review as the next fiscal year’s budget is considered.
It’s not the ideal conditions for taking over as head of a major state department, but Carter said he wouldn’t want to be in any other position at this time.
When he began his career with the TWRA 37 years ago, however, Carter never envisioned himself in the director’s seat. He’s served in nearly every department in the TWRA, working in the field and in the office at the local and regional levels.
Carter said his experience of seeing the TWRA “from every vantage point” will serve him well as director. His only regret is a reduction in time spent in the field as he’s moved up through the TWRA management ranks.
Even as Boating Division director, Carter still spent some time in the field. But he doesn’t expect to be donning his khakis often as director.
“When Gary Myers announced his retirement, I thought I really, really care about the direction of this agency,” Carter said. “It’s been my life for 37 years, and it’s what I went to school for. This is my shot to use the last few years of my career to help set the agency in the right direction for future generations.”
When his time is up as executive director, Carter said he hopes he’ll be remembered for putting the agency first.
“I’d like to be remembered for being fair in my administration of the programs and fair with the people,” Carter said. “And at the end, the programs that we’ve put in place will secure a legacy for those people who will be using it — for instance, my grandkids. If people can say that I had something to do with helping make sure they get to enjoy the same things outdoors that I have my entire life, I’ll feel like I’ve done what I set out to do.”