Guest editorial: State still seeking public input on deer management
White-tailed deer hunting is an integral part of Vermont’s heritage. The Vermont Constitution has guaranteed the right to hunt and fish since 1777, nearly 200 years before other states adopted similar provision. There’s even a white-tailed deer on the state flag.
Many Vermonters spend a tremendous amount of time in the woods hunting each fall, not only because they love the tradition but because they rely on the venison to help feed their families. These hunters are knowledgeable about deer, have a vested interest in sound deer management practices, and are important partners with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department for both management and regulation.
The department recently began a two-year Comprehensive Deer Management Review Process to examine seasons, regulations, methods of harvest, and the science and biology of Vermont’s deer herd. Vermont hunters are a critical part of this process, providing guidance on deer management through an unprecedented and widely publicized effort that has included online surveys, eight public hearings and the opportunity to serve on one of three regional working groups. The working groups are currently working to analyze public input and scientific data in order to provide feedback and suggestions. And that’s all before normal regulations proceedings even get under way.
This process has been guided by the Fish & Wildlife Board, an independent group of sportsmen and women appointed by the governor who make regulations on hunting and fishing. The board regularly relies on the department’s research and recommendations in their decisions, but they also listen closely to hunters. The board will weigh the working groups’ feedback in making future regulations, particularly the public input they have gathered and the management recommendations they will provide based on the biological data they review.
In addition to the survey of 2,100 Vermonters completed earlier this past year, the department will also conduct a phone survey to complement other forms of public input. And we have maintained a page on our website outlining the steps of the review process with contact information for Vermonters who wish to submit written comments. Our website also provides access to information on Vermont’s deer herd we collect every year from biological check stations and hunter self-reports.
The Fish & Wildlife Department gathers a tremendous amount of information on Vermont’s deer herd. Biologists at check stations each fall examine the age, sex and health of each deer checked in. We make all of these data available to the public through big game reports published annually, and maintain a 10-year management plan, all of which can be found at vtfishandwildlife.com. These dates are also presented to the board and to the public at annual deer hearings in order to inform the public and maintain transparency.
The public hearings will continue through 2014 and all are open to local news media. One meeting was televised and streamed live on the Internet and we plan to continue to do so for future hearings.
This level of public input is rare among state wildlife agencies, where deer management decisions are typically made internally, and even more extensive than our normal protocol for soliciting public input to review and make changes to deer management.
During this ongoing review process, all management options are on the table that will allow the deer population to remain in balance with its habitat. Management decisions will be based on the best available science for meeting management objectives balanced with the wishes of Vermont’s deer hunters.
Importantly, the department has not yet drawn any conclusions nor made any recommendations on deer management. We have simply provided scientific data to the working groups, the Fish & Wildlife Board, and to members of the public during hearings and informational meetings.
There are still a series of public meetings, a public comment period, and at least three additional board meetings before this process is compete. Conclusions and recommendations won’t happen until after every Vermonter has a chance to weigh in on deer management. Stay tuned to help the department manage Vermont’s deer herd for Vermont families to enjoy, now, and in seasons to come.
Adam Murkowski, deer project leader for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
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