TNRF was formed in 2001 as the Wildlife Working Group (WWG) by a small informal group of people wishing to promote a new rights-based approach for addressing critical natural resource management issues in Tanzania.
This approach holds that natural resource management challenges should not be simply approached as technical and often isolated 'conservation' issues. Instead, resource management needs to be achieved holistically taking into consideration the integrated management of different resource bases, such as forests, fisheries, wildlife and rangelands.
Critically there is a great need to engage with the fundamentals upon which the management of natural resources is dependent - governance, democracy and livelihoods. These key factors are integral to TNRF's promotion of a devolved 'rights-based' approach necessary for achieving its vision of equitable, sustainable and transparent management of Tanzania's natural resources.
In October 2005, the Wildlife Working Group became Tanzania Natural Resource Forum, in recognition of the fact that many of the issues that the WWG was working on were common to all natural resources, and that a holistic and cross-sectoral approach was required. In February 2006, TNRF became an independently registered NGO, with its own membership and governing steering committee.
Since 2006, TNRF began setting up working groups and managed semi-autonomous projects so that it could best facilitate membership engagement. These initiatives were implemented by TNRF members and partners to address issues concerning natural resources, and it included initiatives such as the Wildlife Working Group, Tanzania Forest Working Group and the Pastoralist Livelihood Task Force.
Since its inception, TNRF has experienced consistent growth and is seen today as a trusted national civil society organisation, working across Tanzania with members and networks to address governance, policy and practice in the natural resources sector (see Annual Reports 2010 & 2011here. However, the natural resources sector in Tanzania is increasingly plagued with challenges.  For example, there continues to be uncontrolled exploitation of valuable tropical forest resources without the required controls being enforced; there is an unprecedented upsurge in the poaching of wildlife for bush meat and trophies, and ivory from Tanzania is found all over the world on the black market; fish resources are being taken from the deep seas and dynamite fishing is rampant along the coast; while climate change is creating further challenges to the governance of these natural resources. As food and fuel prices increase globally, land has become an increasingly scarce commodity worldwide, resulting in increased interest in land, and Tanzania is the focus of a lot of this interest. All of this takes place within the context of government policies directed toward economic growth, where corporate investment and modernisation are seen as the main drivers of development. At the same time corruption poses challenges to effective development in the country. 
The socio-political environment in Tanzania is changing rapidly. Generally, the new way of thinking about development, especially in the natural resources sector, is moving away from program and project implementation and instead looking at issues of governance. 
Effective approaches to address this paradigm shift will require new analyses of socio-political and economic factors, new alliances, new models and strategies, as well as strong engagement with the increasingly politically aware citizens of Tanzania. Taking into account such a changing external environment, TNRF seeks strategies that have the potential to bring about positive change, increase accountability, have a multi level approach and produce synergies with other actors, and that are therefore significant for TNRF members.
In 2010 TNRF began to implement the Learn, Know Act! Initiative, which is an initiative to operationalize the 2009-2011 TNRF Strategy and that aimed to bring about citizen-driven changes in policy and practice for achieving more effective, efficient and equitable sustainable natural resources management.  
In 2012, TNRF reviewed the existing organizational strategy in light of the socio-political context of the country, and a new 2012-2016 Strategy was developed to keep TNRF at the cutting-edge of engagement with natural resource governance in Tanzania.