This commentary is by Lisa Jablow of Brattleboro, a board member of Protect Our Wildlife and of WinDART, and a district leader of the Humane Society of the United States.
Recently, two Vermont wildlife protection organizations and a coalition of citizens presented four separate petitions at a Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting. The petitions requested restrictions on trapping and a ban on the use of live-action trail cameras that give hunters an unfair advantage in the pursuit and killing of Vermont’s wildlife.
Not surprisingly, all petitions were denied. Denying petitions that in any way curtail the activities of Vermont’s shrinking population of recreational hunters and trappers is standard operating procedure for the Fish & Wildlife board and department.
Presenters were given just one week’s notice that they would be heard at this meeting (and I, as one of them, was unable to be there in person due to prior commitments). Nevertheless, the Fish & Wildlife staff members were there, fully armed with PowerPoint presentations and an obvious annoyance with the petitioners.
Protect Our Wildlife submitted our petition requesting a moratorium on fisher trapping last February, out of concern over the decline in the fisher population as well as new threats to the health of their population. The petition was supported with statistical data compiled by a biostatistician with four decades of experience. We received no communication from either the department or the board in response to that petition until one week before the aforementioned meeting.
This was the first in-person Fish & Wildlife Board meeting in more than a year and Commissioner Louis Porter planned to require all presenters to appear in person, providing no option for a virtual meeting to present. Between the short notice and work commitments, I was unable to make it to Montpelier from Brattleboro by the 5 p.m. start time, so Protect Our Wildlife urged the governor’s office to arrange for a conference phone line, to which Porter agreed.
At the meeting, the presentations by both the furbearer biologist who oversees the trapping program, and the biometrician, were not responses to the petitions so much as orchestrated takedowns of the petitioners. The furbearer biologist made no effort to mask her annoyance with the petitioners, stating that it “irked” her to have to spend so much time dealing with our petitions.
It is interesting to note that this biologist invested time over a period of two years responding to a trapper’s petition in 2016 to extend the recreational trapping season on river otters, a species that should be protected, not subject to more killing. That petition was subsequently approved, flying in the face of sound science and the opposition of most Vermonters to trapping.
The biometrician who responded to our fisher petition accused us of making false statements, manipulating data, and undermining their department. The disrespect for citizens with opinions and data that conflict with the pro-trapping agenda of the Fish & Wildlife department and board should have no place in Vermont government, yet time and again citizens with concerns for the protection of Vermont’s wildlife are routinely dismissed.
The digs at the petitioners continued when the furbearer biologist sought to discredit a public opinion poll on trapping. In 2017, Protect Our Wildlife contracted with the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies to survey Vermonters about their position on trapping. The results of the survey indicated that 75% of those who responded wanted to ban the use of steel-jaw leghold and body-gripping traps as well as all drowning traps.
Fish & Wildlife routinely discredits the survey results, yet, at the same time, works with a private contractor to conduct its own surveys, working closely with the company to craft the questions and even — as public records reveal — complains when it doesn’t get the survey responses it want, including lackluster support of trapping by Vermonters.
To criticize the highly credible UVM Center for Rural Studies on its survey methods, while not disclosing who conducts the department’s surveys and how much public money is spent on them, is disingenuous at best, unethical at worst.
An additional concern is that a prior board member, who is a former president of the Vermont Trappers Association and a fisher trapper, and whose term expired in February, was brought back on the Fish & Wildlife Board for June’s vote (his county seat remains vacant). Vermont statute states that Fish & Wildlife Board appointments are for six years with no reappointments. The questions of why and how this was facilitated remain open at this time, but this unannounced reappearance is highly questionable. This board member lamented that there is a movement afoot to change trapping laws. But trappers comprise only about 0.15% of the Vermont public. Proportionally, they have been overrepresented on the Fish & Wildlife Board, which, incidentally, does not include one person representing the wildlife protection community.
These are not the first pro-wildlife petitions to come before the department and the board, nor will they be the last. But until the makeup of the board is restructured to represent all Vermonters and not just those who hunt, hound and trap, we can be assured that all wildlife policies and decisions will reflect their interests.
However, make no mistake — the wildlife protection movement is growing by the day. People are tired of current policies that are not based in sound science, represent the worst of hunter ethics, contribute to wanton waste, and cause enormous and unnecessary suffering.