Letter to the editor: Writer misrepresented substance, intent of S.258

I am writing in response to a recent letter from Fred Schroeder regarding proposed legislation to change the role and composition of the Fish and Wildlife Board (FWB) and also to ban the practice of hunting coyotes with packs of hounds (hounding). Mr. Schroeder misrepresented the bill (S.258) and the Vermont-based advocacy group, Protect Our Wildlife (POW).

S. 258 is a bill long overdue. It makes perfect sense and would solve some really urgent problems. There are two parts to the bill:

First, the uncredentialed, all-volunteer FWB board would become advisory only and rule-making authority would transfer to the Fish & Wildlife Department. The current board is appointed by the governor. They are all hunters, anglers, and/or trappers and lack the academic or professional credentials for the job of managing Vermont’s wildlife and habitat. S.258 would restructure the membership to be more representative, diverse, and informed, with the goal of providing a more accurate reflection of those who use and appreciate Vermont’s wildlife. Thus, the board would include both consumptive (hunters/trappers/anglers) and non-consumptive users of wildlife (i.e.: hikers, naturalists, bird watchers, photographers, and others who spend time appreciating wildlife in a non-extractive manner). 

There would be a new requirement for, “history of involvement with and dedication to fish and wildlife, including a knowledge of fish and wildlife biology, ecology, and the ethics of fish and wildlife management” and “each Board member shall receive training from the department on wildlife biology, coexistence with wildlife, ethics, the reduction of conflict between humans and wildlife, and the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife.” These changes would significantly improve the unbalanced, uninformed and biased board currently in place.

The second part of S. 258 relates to coyote hounding, where packs of powerful hounds, wearing GPS collars, track and chase coyotes while being monitored remotely by hunters. Hounding is a recreational activity not recognized as an effective or science-based means of controlling coyotes. It is akin to dog fighting and has no place in today’s world. Cruel to both the hunting dogs and coyotes, hounding tramples on the rights of private landowners, is dangerous to non-target animals, people, pets, private property, and fragile ecosystems. S.258 is not a ban on coyote hunting. It would eliminate only one form of hunting coyotes who will still be vulnerable to hunters all year long and to trappers during the coyote trapping season.

In addition to misrepresenting S. 258, Mr. Schroeder attacked the Vermont wildlife advocacy group, Protect Our Wildlife (POW). Full disclosure: I am a board member of POW as well as a conservation biologist. I deeply resent being characterized by Mr. Schroeder as a member of a “radical anti-hunting group.” POW is anything but radical and its more than 3,000 members from across Vermont represent people from all walks of life and political persuasions who share concerns for the welfare and conservation of wildlife and the environment. In fact, many POW members hunt and fish or have family members who do. This was made very clear recently at a public gathering for Addison County POW members held in Middlebury. The well-attended event provided information about upcoming wildlife legislation. Many of the attendees participated in the discussion and hunters, some from long standing Vermont families, and spoke passionately against hounding as an unethical and unfair form of hunting that does not belong in this state.

POW is not anti-hunting, although that seems to be a favorite theme of our detractors. It just isn’t the truth! Unfortunately, misrepresenting POW is an effective and hyperbolic means of garnering support from folks fearful of losing their rights and uninformed as to our actual mission. Although POW is singled out by trappers and unethical hunters as the voice of animal advocacy in Vermont, there is actually a strong coalition of animal welfare groups in the state who work closely together, including the Vermont Coyote Coexistence Coalition, Green Mountain Animal Defenders, The Humane Society of the US, Vermont Wildlife Coalition, Vermont Wildlife Patrol, Animal Wellness Action, and Project Coyote. This coalition represents thousands of Vermonters who support greater protections for wildlife.

In addition to misrepresenting the contents and intent of S.258, and defaming Protect Our Wildlife, Mr. Schroeder also attacked two of the four legislators who sponsored this bill, Addison County Senators Chris Bray and Ruth Hardy. Because he dislikes this proposed legislation, he apparently feels entitled to insult the intelligence and diligence of our state legislators who are tackling a challenging task by attempting to remedy a dysfunctional wildlife management system. In fact, the four Senators who sponsored S. 258 represent a majority of their constituents who are concerned about the increasing threats facing the natural world through climate change, habitat and biodiversity losses, and human encroachment. They are taking positive actions to ensure that ethical and responsible treatment of wildlife and ecosystems will ensure their survival for future generations. They deserve our thanks.

Jennifer Lovett


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