A cruel and disruptive practice

GPS hounding is something that no humane person wants to see on Putney Mountain. Releasing unsupervised hounds on the lands of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge presents a risk to the thousands of visitors who are not hunters.

ROCKINGHAM — The term “wildlife refuge” is a bit misleading when describing the 288 acres on Putney Mountain that form part of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Currently, no areas of the Vermont portion of the Refuge are closed to hunting. Though many of us understand the value of traditional deer hunting, GPS hounding is something that no humane person wants to see on Putney Mountain.

Hounders unleash packs of up to six powerful, radio-collared dogs on a lone bobcat, bear, coyote, or other wildlife. This occurs not only during the hunting seasons, but throughout the year during hound “training” season, which lasts all year for some species.

The hounds often chase the animals for miles until the exhausted creature either collapses, climbs a tree (where they're often shot), or decides to stand its ground and fight back. If the animal attempts to defend itself, it is usually ripped apart by the hounds. During this struggle, the hounds are sometimes injured.

Hounders use large pickups with kennels on the back to transport their hounds. Their vehicles often have out-of-state license plates, as hounding has been outlawed in many neighboring states.

After the release, hounders can be seen standing in or near their trucks following the pack's progress on their iPhones or iPads - not what I'd call sporting, but the practice is vigorously defended as such by Vermont's Fish and Wildlife department.

Hounds also pursue non-targeted animals, including deer fawn and moose calves. Additionally, they pose a danger to Vermont's threatened Canada lynx that have been found on the Conte Refuge. One of the Refuge managers shared her concerns with Vermont Fish and Wildlife back in 2015, but the agency chose to take no action.

“The use of radio-collared hounds to run down bobcats, bears, coyotes, and other wildlife is a cruel and disruptive practice,” said John Aberth, Protect Our Wildlife board member and licensed Vermont volunteer wildlife rehabilitator.

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While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that one agency objective is to “implement a hunting and fishing program that is safe for all Refuge users,” many of us feel that unsupervised hounds released on Refuge lands present a risk to the thousands of Refuge visitors who are not hunters.

“It is common practice for hounders to track their radio-collared hounds - who may be miles away pursuing wildlife - with only their handheld GPS devices,” Aberth said.

A retired couple and their leashed puppy were attacked by unsupervised bear hounds in Ripton in 2019 on public land. Their dog was severely injured and the woman was pulled into a ravine as she and her husband tried to shield their terrier from the 60-to-80-pound dogs.

Hounds cannot distinguish between threatened or endangered species versus target species (e.g. distinguishing a bobcat from a Canada lynx, a threatened species).

A Refuge biologist shared her concern about lynx being disturbed by hunting hounds in a 2014 email to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, but the department took no action. Other non-target animals that are at risk of being injured or killed include ground-nesting birds, deer fawn, and moose calves.

Anyone who is interested in protecting wildlife from the cruel and indiscriminate use of hounds on our refuge should sign a petition at protectourwildlifevt.org. I would also encourage folks to submit written comment to USFWS directly to [email protected].

The deadline for public comment on proposed new rules is Monday, July 5, so don't delay.

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