Every once in a while, you set out on one path and that path leads to another, one that you had no intention of following.
For example, this column was supposed to solely address the fact that the position of the Rutland County representative on the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board has been vacant for about six months.
There was, of course, some concern because, during the past months, some major changes that impact deer hunting in Vermont were under consideration by the 14-member board.
So we contacted Louis Porter, the commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, to find out why there was such a delay in naming a new member for Rutland County.
“We’ve been pretty occupied with trapping and deer regulations,” he said. “I’m searching for somebody right now.” Porter said he wants to fill the vacancy as soon as he finds the right person.
“Fish & Wildlife board members are under more intense scrutiny and have increased expectation from the public and the Vermont Legislature more now than at any time I can remember,” he said.
According to the Vermont official website, “The board is responsible for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habits for the people of Vermont and to protect the integrity, vitality and diversity of all natural systems.”
But during the past few years, there has been a major push by what Porter described as “animal rights people” to place Vermonters on the board who are not aligned with the hunting or trapping community.
Porter was emphatic about what he could or could not say about the prospects of someone outside the hunting or trapping community serving on the board, saying, “I’m somewhat restricted in what I can say about that, but there is a good reason why governors of both political parties have adopted to appoint those with hunting, fishing and trapping licenses historically.”
Porter said that, unlike some states, Vermont does not have a requirement that one must have a hunting, fishing or trapping license in order to be on the board. Furthermore, he said, Vermont’s board is “quite narrow in its scope. It oversees hunting, fishing and trapping seasons, bag limits and means to take. It does not oversee other aspects of the department’s operations, as the board of commission does in other states.” It should be noted, Porter said, that the Fish & Wildlife Board is a regulatory body, not a law-setting body. The Vermont Legislature sets the laws.
Meanwhile, it is widely believed in the Vermont hunting and trapping community that animal rights groups are pushing for membership on the board so that they could change the direction of the board towards an anti-hunting and anti-trapping agenda.
One example cited by Porter is what has happened in California, where hunters are angry about how the California Fish and Game Commission no longer speaks for hunters in The Golden State.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times in April 2016, “the shift in emphasis at the commission has also frustrated some veterans of the agency, including Jim Kellogg, an avid hunter who resigned from the commission in December after 14 years on the panel.” Two other members sympathetic to the outdoors community also left their positions, the Times reported.
Kellogg said that he could no longer serve on the commission because “The animal rights people who don’t favor hunting and fishing have more horsepower than they did before,” the Times reported.
Porter said there appears to be a clear misunderstanding about what hunters, trappers and fishermen do and the legal guidelines set up to protect all species, those hunted and those not, in Vermont.
“There seems to be a feeling among some who oppose various types of hunting that having board members who hunt takes something away from wildlife watchers or others,” he said. “That is strange, given that the department and the board have a mission that first requires that species and habitats be protected, and only after that do we allow hunting, fishing and trapping of species. In other words, if species are healthy and abundant, how is hunting, fishing and trapping taking something away from others, except that they simply don’t like some or all of those activities.”
Porter, I believe, is being very kind or perhaps, careful, with his words here. In New Jersey, animal rights people fought a bear hunt perhaps a decade ago, the Fish & Wildlife agency there relented and, what do you know, the bears became so plentiful and unafraid of human contact that, ultimately, a bear season had to be held. In Maine, a push by the suburban southern parts of the state wanted a drastic change in bear hunting there, and that move was only narrowly defeated in a statewide vote.
Anyone who is paying attention can see what could go down in the Green Mountain State. First, a ban on hunting one species, then another ban, a slow but drastic drip-drip-drip, and before you know it, you wake up in New Jersey.
I came to Vermont from another place more than 40 years ago because, frankly, I never fit in. I hunted and was looked upon as some kind of freak. Here is where I belong.
While it is clear that hunters, anglers and trappers are in a minority in Vermont, they have always been in the forefront of protecting and preserving our wildlife. Long before bird-watching and wildlife-watching became big business, the hunter was there, protecting those critters that needed protection.
Hunters, anglers and trappers, then, must band together to preserve what the Vermont constitution guarantees, but should also be willing to listen to logical, alternate points of view when it comes to preserving and protecting our wildlife. We must also keep a close watch for and call out those people whose law-breaking behavior only provides ammunition for those who would someday love to walk the woods of November and never again hear the report of a shotgun or rifle.
That day must never come here in Vermont.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.