Kingsport native making his mark preserving state's natural resources

George Thwaites • Mar 2, 2013 at 10:13 AM

Kingsport native Todd Weaver didn’t suit up as a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife officer until eight years after he graduated from Tennessee Tech.

It didn’t take Weaver anywhere near that long to make his mark in conservation law enforcement.

Weaver, a 1998 Dobyns-Bennett graduate, was named 2012 Tennessee Wildlife Officer of the Year by the Shikar-Safari Club International.

Each year, the club sponsors Wildlife Officer of the Year awards in all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces.

“It was a pretty big accomplishment to get it my second year. Your first year, you’re on probation and getting a bunch of training,” said the 32-year-old Weaver, who recently transferred to TWRA District 42, which includes Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Johnson, Carter, Washington, Unicoi, Cocke and Jefferson counties.

Weaver got his start as a wildlife officer in Hickman County, which lies southwest of Nashville. No sooner did he learn the ropes than he established his reputation as a go-getter.

“Hickman County is the fifth-largest county in the state. A lot of out-of-county people hunt there, because you can harvest more deer there than you can in East Tennessee,” said Weaver. “Me being the only officer in that large of a county put a lot of responsibility on me, as far as enforcing the game laws.”

His superiors applauded his “relentless” law enforcement efforts. For the year, he issued 157 hunting and trapping citations — including 50 for big game violations — and 28 warnings. He put in extra hours to obtain evidence on an adult who illegally hunted and harvested a deer during the juvenile hunt weekend.

Weaver was no less aggressive pursuing fishing and boating violators, his efforts leading to over 100 cases. He’d routinely hike two miles or more through rough terrain in order to make a surprise inspection.

“It’s important to get folks to realize they need to have a license to fish legally. A lot of people would go fishing without one, thinking that they were in such a remote location nobody else could be around. And then, there I am,” Weaver said.

From the outset, Weaver embraced his role as the local face of the TWRA. He was very active in youth outreach programs, including eight different programs and events involving 1,850 participants. Hunter education classes he taught or helped to teach certified 227 hunters.

He kept the agency visible not only through print and broadcast media, but also by making numerous public appearances. He built solid relationships with citizens and other local law enforcement and government agencies, making his efforts to catch violators all the more effective. He gave his personal cell phone number out to citizens. When they called, he responded.

“A lot of folks who aren’t comfortable calling the main office are more likely to call me directly to report a violation,” he said.

He successfully negotiated situations that were unaccounted for in his previous training. A sharp increase in recreational paddling on the Piney River, for instance, led Weaver to innovate new ways to keep an eye on boat traffic and inspect local canoe and kayak rental businesses.

Public waters are, after all, public.

“You can run into all kinds of things out there. Drinking. Drugs. Even public indecency,” Weaver said. “We want people to have fun. But we want a safe environment for everybody.”

While Weaver is a dedicated conservation cop, he’s also a dedicated conservationist. He monitored nesting eagles along the Duck River. He surveyed threatened bat populations in local caves, testing for diseases. He was very active in TWRA’s wild hog eradication efforts.

“They’re scavengers, basically, and they do a lot of damage. They bring the potential for disease, they cause soil erosion. They destroy native plants and wreak havoc on wild turkey eggs,” he said.

Weaver obtained a B.S. degree in wildlife and fisheries science with a minor in biology at Tennessee Tech. In his years prior to swearing in as a wildlife officer, he followed a diverse career path that included stints as a park naturalist at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, an office job at the TWRA headquarters in Nashville and as a technician at the Buffalo Springs Hatchery near Rutledge. His private sector work included three years as a wildlife removal expert with Varmint Busters, a Knoxville-based company.

The wildlife removal work bore no resemblance to the entertaining shenanigans you’d see on Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wildman,” he said. But he admitted that getting paid to live-trap all day is inherently fun work for a wildlife enthusiast.

“Sometimes you’ve got bats flying around all over the place. I’ve been in an attic with a female raccoon and her babies. They tend to be a little aggressive,” he said.

“I caught a few odd things, like an albino raccoon. Stuff like that. But nothing really outlandish ever happened.”

Certainly nothing any more outlandish than the live python he was called to recover from an abandoned house during his big year in Hickman County. Dealing with injured, orphaned and nuisance wildlife remains part of his job description.

Hickman County had lots of armadillos and no bears. East Tennessee has lots of bears and no armadillos. If sea lions or alligators were in the mix, he’d probably figure out how to handle them, too. Weaver is nothing if not adaptable. But he’s happy to be back home.

“As far as I know, I’m the first game warden to come to Sullivan County who was originally from here,” he said. “I look forward to working with the people I’ve grown up with and enforcing the laws to protect the natural resources ... not only for my children, but the children of the community that I was born and raised in.”

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