FWD has opposed three bills to modernize state wildlife governance

PUTNEY — With each passing year, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (FWD) becomes more entrenched in its support of archaic laws regarding wildlife. The problems start at the top.

When FWD Commissioner Jack Porter resigned last year, I hoped for a successor with modern values who would take animal ethics into consideration.

Instead, Gov. Phil Scott appointed yet another commissioner - Chris Herrick - who lacks any credentials in environmental sciences or wildlife management. Ethics don't seem to be too high on his list, either.

In the commissioner's lackluster debut in front of the Legislature earlier this year, he testified that wildlife could be killed solely to be used as “fertilizer” to meet the criteria under the new wanton waste ban efforts under bill H.411. Fortunately, the commissioner's idea was rejected.

FWD has opposed three Senate wildlife bills that seek to modernize Vermont's wildlife governance with an eye toward better wildlife protections, demonstrating the agency's allegiance to an entrenched, biased agenda.

Given that FWD's prior commissioner wouldn't even support a bill to ban coyote killing contests a few years ago, we shouldn't be surprised to learn the current commissioner does not support efforts to ban coyote hounding (bill S.281), which is legalized dog fighting.

When the FWD's biologist engages in theatrics while testifying in opposition to a bill to ban leghold traps, by quickly placing her thickly gloved hand in a leghold trap to try and convince legislators that traps aren't inhumane, you know they've reached an all-time low.

On the House side of the State House, Commissioner Herrick insisted on excluding coyotes from H.411, a bill that seeks to address the wasteful killing of wildlife. This comment was in addition to his fertilizer comment.

Speaking of the legislature, an ongoing concern is that FWD doesn't disclose their biases. For example, FWD staff testified in opposition to the ban on leghold traps using their “biologist” credentials without disclosing their inherent biases toward trapping as a recreational opportunity.

FWD is given too much deference by legislators and other decision-makers who view them as unbiased experts and not as lobbyists for their customers: hunters and trappers.

The governor, his commissioner, and FWD senior management seem determined to keep Vermont's wildlife policies stuck in the 1950s despite opposition from the public as evidenced in the 2017 Center for Rural Studies' Vermonter Poll.

As evidenced in this poll, very few Vermonters support the use of leghold traps, for example, but FWD ignores public sentiment and animal welfare concerns and plows ahead with an agenda.

“If state Fish and Wildlife Agencies fail to adapt, their ability to manage fish and wildlife will be hindered and their public and political support compromised,” the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies warns in “The Future of America's Fish and Wildlife: A 21st Century Vision for Investing in and Connecting People to Nature,” a blue-ribbon-panel report issued in 2016.

I agree.

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