Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Hunting with GPS is unsportsmanlike

I am a resident of Addison County, born into a family that has been hunting on the Vermont landscape for generations. The article about the bear hound attack on Oct. 19 and follow up articles regarding the so-called “Vermont tradition” of hound hunting not only caught my attention but has resonated for several reasons, and I feel compelled to voice them to the community.
I sympathize with the couple, and with all the folks who have expressed their frustration with hounds on private land. We have had to make our own compromises on our private property too during the bear season. While the disrespect from the bear hounding community of posted private property is frustrating, the disrespect of our wildlife is personally even more troubling. The laws in place today are archaic when it comes to the ethical treatment of the life with which we share our environment. I am appalled that in the year 2019 sports such as hound hunting not only still exist in our state but appear to be flourishing. I find it offensive that this practice is considered a “Vermont tradition” by enthusiasts and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and thus regarded as somehow sacred, despite the unreasonable suffering and consequences it creates.
I’d like to be clear that I am not against hunting, and I am not against hunting bears. I honor my ancestors and relations who went on a hunt, fine tuning their skills, developing a personal relationship with the natural world and feeding their families. I acknowledge that the state collects important data used for conservation and management purposes based on information obtained by the public during hunting seasons.
My issue is with the modern bear hounding in Vermont today. With advancements in GPS technology along with a pack of specialized dogs bred for the sport, the practices applied today are unsportsmanlike and give high-tech hunters the upper hand, violating the ethics and hunting standards we once had. It’s easy for hunters to hang out, monitor their screens and wait until alerted to cues that their dogs have cornered a bear. Computers in hand, the hunters are led to the exhausted, frightened and stranded bear. There was a recent post on social media circling this fall of a bear being chased for roughly six hours before the dogs were called off by the hunter. It’s worth noting that there was no way for the hunter to know if this was an appropriate bear to be going after — it could have been a mother sow, the chase separating her from her cubs by many miles and possibly fragmented habitats and roads.
In the Nov. 7 article, Butch Spear stated that once a bear has been treed the hunter can easily assess the bear to determine if it is suitable for killing. This is a misleading statement, causing people to believe that hounding practices allow the hunter to be more selective when killing a bear. I encourage readers to do the research on this misconception; in actuality, suitability is primarily a best guess. Conservationists and biologists in the field attest to the fact that it is very difficult for them to tell sex, age and whether the bear is a mother sow from a distance, let alone for the layman or average hunter. Professional consensus is that there is no discernible difference between a lactating female or non-lactating female at such a distance.
We do not need aggressive hunting practices to control the bear population. The data is available and testifies that states who have banned the use of hounds have continued to see stable and healthy bear populations with no influence on the number of human-bear related conflicts. Hounding is not ethical, it is not humane nor is it in the spirit of the true hunt; rather, it is mere sport and game, human enjoyment at the expense of other living creatures. Furthermore, if black bears in Vermont are waking from their winter dormancy sometime in April, the hunting season schedule means that bears only have the month of May in which they are not being harassed by either bear hound training season or bear hound hunting season. You would think an animal for whom storing its winter fat and raising its cubs is so essential to survival would be more protected from humans, especially as winter draws near. Banning hounds would eliminate the need for a training season, securing three more months in which bears would not be terrorized by us.
Indigenous peoples of the Green Mountains and throughout the continent regard bears with respect and honor. It’s not hard to imagine why, due to the powerful familial ties between the young sow and her cubs, mankind looked on this species as an example of love and family raising. In these cultures bears also stand out as harbingers of strength, courage and wisdom. To further this sport is to further the painful legacy of white colonialism. Bears aren’t the only victims in this sport — other wildlife, people, pets and property are all included.
The fact is that Vermont is behind the times. Even the state of Montana, held in such high esteem among big game hunters, has had a ban on bear dogs for the past 100 years. In the Nov. 7 article some information was given about hounding from the Humane Society of the United States. I think it’s important that we educate ourselves about the dangers and cruelty of the sport, do the research ourselves, advocate for wildlife and ask for reasonable regulations on human sports. It’s about time that we start addressing the blatant wildlife abuse tolerated throughout our state, whether it’s bear hounding, wanton waste acceptance, trapping on public lands or open season on coyotes all year long.
The way we hunt and use the land for our recreation speaks volumes to how disconnected we have come to be as a society. How can we expect to raise a generation of nature-oriented stewards of our environment with the current acceptance of these practices in Vermont?
I hope that legislators and Vermont Fish and Wildlife will change laws to better represent the best interests of the Vermont community, which includes not only hunters but also private landowners, wildlife and all facets of the natural environment. It’s a fair point to consider appointing some officials at Vermont Fish and Wildlife who are not hunters, and therefore may bring less personal bias to the oversight of hunting management. For instance, it is rather disturbing to see that the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website provides bear meat recipes. That has no place on the website of a state agency. Vermonters must figure out better regulations and aspire to more ethical hunting standards like those held up by our ancestors, regardless of our heritage, a long time ago.
Peter Cummings
Ripton 

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