Public weighs in on controversial hunting and wildlife bills

Public weighs in on controversial hunting and wildlife bills

Three bills from the state Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee are stirring controversy among hunters and animal welfare advocates.

In a relatively rare public hearing conducted by the committee last week, Vermont residents voiced their support and opposition to the bills, which would ban two hunting practices and limit the power of the Department of Fisheries and from wildlife.

“Quite frankly, the hunting and fishing bills are always of broad interest, and there’s also some controversy around them,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, who chairs the committee. “Rather than just going through the usual committee process, we thought it was worth creating a public forum that anyone could participate in.”

Many opponents of the proposed policies have expressed concern that the bills seek to limit hunting in general and said hunters use best practices to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain on animals. Supporters of the bills say the practices at their center are cruel and should have been banned long ago.

Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner Chris Herrick opposes parts of all three bills.

Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife, a statewide organization that advocates for increased regulation of hunting in the state, says the bills are not anti-hunting.

“There are still certain legal practices in Vermont that, if we did the same to pets, would likely fall under Vermont’s animal cruelty law, which means you inflict pain, suffering and prolonged fear to an animal,” she told VTDigger.

The bills

One of the bills, S.281, would ban hunters from using dogs to track and kill coyotes, a practice that animal welfare activists liken to dogfighting. Other than obtaining a standard hunting license, hunters and their dogs face few restrictions when hunting coyotes, which are often seriously injured or killed by the dogs hunting them.

In addition to the public hearing, lawmakers from the Senate Natural Resources Committee testified earlier this month on each of the bills. There, Diana Hansen, a resident of Craftsbury, said she grew up in a family of hunters and didn’t take issue with many types of hunting, but an incident on her property in February 2018 l led her to oppose the hunting of coyotes with dogs.

Her 10-year-old child alerted her that several dogs were entering her property in pursuit of a coyote, she told lawmakers. The dogs mauled the coyote, which was bloodied and “clearly exhausted,” Hansen said, until the creature climbed into its talon, followed by the dogs. The incident, which all of her children witnessed, caused damage worth $500. Her property was not listed, so no official could help her, she said.

Rather than outright banning the practice, fish and wildlife officials are advocating for increased regulations regarding coyote hunting.

“By regulating it, it would allow us to have a better understanding of what’s going on out there with real data and not just anecdotal information,” Herrick said.

A second bill, S.201, proposes a ban on leg traps, which are also called foot traps. Animal welfare groups say the devices are painful and indiscriminately trap animals, including endangered species and pets.

In response to the bill, hunters and state Fish and Wildlife officials said the traps are humane and effective if checked often, and are sometimes used to protect certain species by warding off predators.

The conversation around entrapment has been volatile, Mike Covey, executive director of the Vermont Traditions Coalition, told lawmakers in testimony earlier this month.

“None of these conversations takes into consideration all the work that has been done to bring trapping into the 21st century,” he said, adding that advancements allow hunters to target certain animals and avoid them. capture others.

Kim Royer, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, testified this month that scientists often use foot traps to catch and stick animals. There has been no evidence of harm to these animals, she said.

Galdenzi said she’s concerned about recreational trapping, where the standards may be less stringent than state-sanctioned wildlife projects.

“The traps can’t even distinguish between the intended victim, a bobcat for example, and a protected species, like a bald eagle,” Galdenzi said during last week’s hearing. “Non-target animals, such as hawks and crows, are killed each year in local traps.”

A third bill, S.129, would change the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Board, which determines many Vermont hunting policies, so that it acts in an advisory capacity to the Fish and Wildlife Department. The department would develop hunting rules, advised by the council.

Herrick pointed to the power the legislature would wield under the proposed setup. Eight of the 12 board members would be appointed by lawmakers, he said. They are currently appointed by the Governor. As it stands, lawmakers must already approve new policies created by the council.

“The people who work here at the department are based on scientific, peer-reviewed studies and accepted best practices,” Herrick said. “And I think it’s fair to say that the board relies on their expertise and their recommendations.”

Council members often hold hunting or fishing licenses, which makes it easier for them to understand the workings of the policies they create, Herrick said, adding that members represent a diverse set of points of view. seen.

Covey told lawmakers the bill appears to be designed to “reduce opportunities for hunting and trapping in Vermont.” He said it made sense for council members to hold hunting licenses.

“If you don’t understand the dynamic conditions that can occur on the ground, it’s very difficult to regulate a subject you’re not familiar with,” he said.

Animal advocates such as Galdenzi have lobbied for board members to represent non-hunting Vermonters.

“Wildlife is a public trust resource, and these policies they make impact us all. Whether it’s extending the otter trapping season or any other petitions that may land on their desks, it concerns all of us,” Galdenzi said. “We should all have a say and we should all have a seat.”

After listening to members of the public during testimony and the public hearing, Bray said the committee will need to discuss next steps in the coming weeks.

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