Letter to the editor: The phrase ‘wildlife advocates’ is a misnomer

Recent articles and editorials focusing on S.258, the proposal to revise the composition of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board (the board charged with setting hunting, fishing, and trapping regulations) toward a majority of members chosen by a few select legislators, have raised questions regarding the intent of the legislation. For quite some time, especially throughout the recent debates regarding legislative bills limiting the harvest of wild animals, the media has depicted the organizations proposing such as “wildlife advocates.” May I suggest this label is greatly misguided as the organizations’ mission purposely excludes universally accepted wildlife conservation and management strategies to conserve Vermont’s wildlife for future generations.

Despite what its board members state and prefer us to think, Protect Our Wildlife, the primary organization driving legislative action, is an animal rights organization and should be specifically labeled by the media as such. A quick perusal of the organization’s website will validate this conclusion. The list of issues under their heading of “Our Work” is strictly limited to reducing or eliminating the harvest of wild animals. While I respect the right of individuals to be proponents of minimizing the killing of wild animals based on their personal ethics, it should not be represented under the guise of wildlife advocacy. The danger in doing so misguides the public to believe that Vermont’s wildlife will be forever protected by simply stopping the legal harvest of wild animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the United States, where the harvest of wildlife animals is heavily regulated by professional state fish and wildlife agencies, no game species has become endangered when managed under modern wildlife management science.

Instead, the science is quite clear that the greatest threats to wildlife are habitat loss, invasive species and diseases, and climate change. May I offer that the organizations truly deserving the label “wildlife advocates” are those that work toward the breadth of strategies proven to address these threats and conserve wildlife for future generations. Consider the programs of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as an example: In addition to regulating the harvest of wildlife, the Department administers a habitat program that purchases wildlife habitat with numerous government and non-profit entities, reviews land development projects for impacts to wildlife and their habitat, works with private landowners to manage their lands for wildlife, and works with towns and regional planning commissions to plan for maintaining wildlife habitat in the face of development and climate change. 

The department also has a nongame and endangered species program that monitors wildlife and plant populations and works to recover populations of endangered species. Lastly, the department administers one of the more restrictive state regulations on the importation of invasive species into the state. It is noteworthy that none of these wildlife conservation strategies are acknowledged, supported, or promoted by Protect Our Wildlife.

I truly applaud the efforts of some legislators to address climate change and land conservation initiatives over the past few years — critical issues that will determine the future for wildlife in this state. Should they choose to focus their attention on animal rights issues, however, I only ask that they and the media be up front with the public about the true intent of the legislation and the organizations behind them.

Scott Darling


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