Letter to the editor: Fish & Wildlife debate missing larger picture

For background, hunting and fishing are the most important things in my life outside of my family. I spend easily a hundred days a year afield, hunting, fishing, scouting and wandering around in the woods enjoying nature. Much of this time is spent with my two young sons, both of whom have lifetime hunting licenses. I provide this context to demonstrate that I have serious skin in the game as it pertains to the future of hunting and fishing. 

I have been following the discourse around S. 258 closely, and I think that in much of it we are missing the larger picture. 

Wildlife is not the property of those who pursue it. This is stated as a fundamental tenet of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, followed as legal framework in Vermont. Rather than property, wildlife is to be “held in trust by the state for all citizens.” This is law — not my opinion. It is hard for me to acknowledge that and make an objective argument against having the Wildlife Board consist of a more diverse set of viewpoints. How this affects sportsmen/women will depend on the people who eventually occupy that board. If the end result is a board of open-minded hunters, trappers, fishermen/women, bird watchers, hikers, and ecologists, it could be great for wildlife and for our relationships. If the result is a board stacked with folks who disapprove of a consumptive relationship with nature, then it could be very difficult for us. 

As such I implore our representatives to take seriously our constitutional right to hunt and fish when considering these potential appointments, I can’t argue with acknowledging the interests of the majority of the state’s population who enjoy wildlife in different ways than I do. That’s democracy. What I do fear is these appointments being subject to political whims, and I would love to see the bill’s text amended to include clearer language around the requisite credentials of appointees and some guarantee that hunters and fishermen/women would be represented in a way that reflects our cultural significance and considerable role in funding conservation in the state. 

However, more important than S.258 itself is the reason it exists in the first place. S.258 is a reaction to our unwillingness, for years, to acknowledge and act on concerns brought to us by non-hunters. It’s a reaction to our inability or disinterest in self-policing; our tendency to circle the wagons for fear of giving any ground to “The Antis” (anti hunters), rather than looking inwards. We hunters are very proud of our past conservation successes — leading the charge to legislate fair chase, end market hunting, and restore wildlife populations. Those were undoubtedly divisive issues at the time, but enough hunters did what was right and left us with a proud legacy. We need that gusto now. Why do we need animal rights groups to advocate for stronger wanton waste laws? We should be doing that. Why do we need landowners lobbying the state to do something about the persistent problems with bear hounds running through their posted property? I’m not personally invested in hound hunting, but if I was I’d be desperate to find some way to mitigate those conflicts. 

I know the argument against this: “It’s a slippery slope. What’ll they want to ban next?” I get it, organizations like Protect Our Wildlife aren’t going to fold up the tent and call it a day if coyote hounding gets banned. There will always be more conversations to be had, and compromise hurts. But we’ve got to have those conversations, be part of solutions when clear problems exist, and we’ve got to sell our way of life honestly and passionately. In refusing to engage, we strip ourselves of the opportunity to help outsiders appreciate our passion for this way of life, leaving them to get their information from social media posts and YouTube videos without context or background. 

The bright side is that I genuinely believe this all can be sold well to people who don’t engage in it. It is too honest, too natural, not to be. My line of work (tile setting) puts me in the homes of strangers, many new to the area, constantly. These people find out I’m a hunter from the second I walk in; it’s all I can talk about, and I usually bring along a package of venison sausage or turkey broth for them. I’ve never once had a negative reaction and people are often quite curious. Talking openly and honestly and highlighting the fact that this lifestyle deepens my connection with nature and provides food for my family resonates with people. 

I sat down with Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife, the other day. We owe it to everyone to listen. We talked for two hours about my background in hunting and fishing, and trapping briefly as a kid. There’s plenty we don’t agree on — we have fundamental differences in the way we look at our relationship with nature. But it was a civil discussion and I genuinely believe that there were things about my relationship with hunting and nature and food that resonated with her. I don’t think she, or most others, are out to rob us of that. These aren’t always the most comfortable conversations, but they must be had. If we’re honest ambassadors, we don’t need to fear the input of outsiders. 

I’m 32. My youngest son is one. If we want his generation to enjoy the vibrant lifestyle that we do, we can’t make ourselves the enemy of 95% of the population. I end this letter with two requests — to anyone tasked with appointing people to this board, take seriously your directives to make science-based recommendations and leave politics out of it. To my fellow hunters, consider public relations a duty that cannot be neglected.

Alex Smith


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