Next week, the Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy will hold a virtual public hearing on a trio of Senate bills that could reduce the size and power of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board, ban hunting coyotes with dogs, and ban “leghold” traps in the state.
The state Fish & Wildlife Board currently consists of 14 members — a citizen from each county in the state — who act as a rule-making body and authority guided by the state Fish & Wildlife Department. The board members are appointed by the governor, and a person may only serve one six-year term.
Senate Bill 129, introduced by Sen. Brian Campion last year, seeks to remove most of the board’s power by reducing it to an advisory body consisting of 12 members “with consideration of geographic diversity.” This would mean the state Legislature would ultimately have authority over Fish & Wildlife Department matters.
“This bill proposes to transfer the authority to adopt rules for the taking of fish, wildlife, and fur-bearing animals from the Fish and Wildlife Board to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The bill would also amend the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Board so that it serves in an advisory capacity to the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” the text of the bill states.
It also says that under the 12-board-member model, four members would be appointed by a Fish & Wildlife Commissioner, four would be appointed by the Speaker of the House, and the Committee on Committees would appoint the remaining four.
“This is an absurd violation of [the] separation of powers and basic notions of checks and balances within our system,” said Dillon Barto, manager of state services for Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Moreover, when one considers the vast number of anti-hunting bills recently brought forth by the current Vermont legislature, this bill is nothing short of a fast-track ban on hunting altogether.”
Proponents of the bill say the board has long been stacked with political appointees who are fishing, hunting, or trapping license holders.
“This isn’t the 1950s. Wildlife is facing the sixth mass extinction, and Vermont Fish & Wildlife just continues on with business as usual,” said Brenna Galdenzi of Protect Our Wildlife, a group that has advocated against a number of hunting and trapping traditions in Vermont. Galdenzi moved to the state in 2010.
“These people come into this state because they ‘like it,’” said former Fish & Wildlife Board member Bill Pickens during a June 2021 meeting. “And they get here and find out what we do, and they can’t stand it anymore.”
SB 281 was introduced by the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and would outright ban the use of dogs for coyote hunting.
“Once again, animal-rights activists are showing they will stop at nothing to undermine wildlife management. They’re employing the same weak, emotional arguments they’ve been using for years to destroy our hunting and ranching cultures,” said Brian Lynn, vice president of communications for Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Let’s be clear: This bill has zero to do with public safety and everything to do with banning hunting with dogs and ending predator management.”
SB 201 is a piece of anti-trapping legislation introduced by Sen. Richard McCormack that would “prohibit the use of leghold traps to take or attempt to take wildlife.”
“A person who violates section 4707 of this title by using or attempting to use a leghold trap to take wildlife shall be fined not less than $200.00 or more than $500.00 or imprisoned for not more than 60 days, or both, for a first offense. For a second or subsequent offense, a person shall be fined not less
than $500.00 or more than $1,000.00 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both,” the bill says.
Registration for the Feb. 10 meeting is full, but the Sportsmen’s Alliance says those wishing to speak out against these bills should email email@example.com and include the bill number in the subject line.