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An activist group pushing for changes in the state’s wildlife management laws says that while the bills it was backing didn’t get far, the conversations around them were a victory in itself.
The bills were S.129, which would have moved rule-making authority from the Fish and Wildlife Board to the Department of Fish and Wildlife; S.201, which would have banned the use of leghold traps; and S.281, a bill banning the use of dogs in coyote hunts.
While the Legislative session isn’t over, it has gone past the point where the House and Senate finalize work on their respective bills and send them to each other for further deliberation. Because this is the second year of a biennium, any bills that didn’t make it far enough to be sent to either the House or Senate will have to be reintroduced in the next session.
Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife, an organization that’s been pushing for several changes to Vermont’s approach to wildlife management, said last week that S. 129, the bill changing the Fish and Wildlife Board’s role to that of an advisory one, didn’t leave the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.
She said the committee will ask Chris Herrick, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to come back to the Legislature in September with recommendations as to how to address concerns some have had with the Fish and Wildlife Board.
Board members are appointed from each county by the governor. It doesn’t make laws, but has the authority to make rules such as bag limits, shot types, the length of hunting seasons, and things of that nature. It’s been criticized by Protect Our Wildlife and others for allegedly not being inclusive enough of other wildlife interests not related to fishing, hunting or trapping.
On Feb. 10, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a remote meeting to hear from the public on all three bills. Committee Chair Sen. Chris Bray, a Democrat representing Addison County, said at the hearing that more specific testimony would be taken by the committee over the following weeks, but at that point lawmakers were looking to hear people’s general opinions.
Derek Williams, of Newbury, spoke at the February hearing. He was not in favor of the bills, saying they’re a divisive waste of time and that bringing them up during a time of crisis, likely referring to the pandemic, is unethical.
“S.129 is an attempt at crippling a working board and replacing it with a less functional alternative,” he said. “The only reasons that I can see anyone wanting to change this process is to shift the decision-making power to the Legislature and away from the governor and to increase the impact of those who are bound and determined to strip Vermonters of their ability to harvest Vermont’s bountiful natural resources.
The makeup of the Fish and Wildlife Board, as it stands now, works, and those people are informed by talented biologists, law enforcement officers, and others in the Fish and Wildlife Department, he said.
He also commented on S.281, the bill that, as it was introduced, would have banned the use of hounds in hunting coyotes.
“This bill attempts to ban a practice due to false information,” he said. “My many experiences with hound hunting have never led me to believe that hounds are unsafe. The speed at which others travel on back roads has been unsafe, angry anti-hunters have made me feel unsafe and at risk navigating the backcountry. This is an attack on our rural rights, and it’s the reason we have so much divisiveness in our public politics today. Please use your time more wisely.”
Galdenzi said last week that she believes once Herrick has sent his letter and recommendations about S.129 to the Legislature, that the bill will be redrafted and introduced again in 2023. It was initially sponsored by Sen. Brian Campion, a Democrat from Bennington.
She said that while both S.201, the ban on leghold traps, and S.281, the ban on hounding coyotes, advanced, they did so in reduced forms. She said the leghold trap bill no longer bans their use and instead requires the Fish and Wildlife Department to report on how people’s concerns over their use might be addressed.
The hounding bill, she said, was amended in the Senate committee almost immediately after it was introduced, changing it from an outright ban to a more regulated process. Its current draft calls for special permits and a moratorium placed on hounding coyotes — with some exceptions — until the Fish and Wildlife Board can promulgate rules surrounding their use.
“Overall, our take for all three of the bills, certainly they didn’t end where we wanted them to but I think what’s most important is that these conversations that haven’t been had for a long time, if ever at all, have finally been heard and have received a lot of deliberation and air time,” said Galdenzi. “And so I think that’s the first step, the fact that we’re getting this stuff out there and educating legislators about problems.”
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