A recent writer, responding to the controversies surrounding wildlife management in Vermont, asked how wildlife advocates would handle the situation differently. While I can’t speak for all advocates, my answer to his question is relatively simple.
Vermont should start with three key values absent in today’s wildlife governance model.
First, management decisions related to wildlife should be grounded within a comprehensive ecological understanding of how each species functions in, and impacts, the environment rather than the current utilitarian and tradition-based mindset. For example, the red and gray fox provide extraordinary benefits by feeding on small rodents and many species of rodents serve as hosts to ticks harboring several diseases, including Lyme, that threaten human health. Therefore, ecological thinking suggests foxes should not be on the recreational/sport killing list because they provide multiple services versus the sole “benefit” of providing a skin to tack on a wall.
Secondly, a process must be established in which decisions are made in a democratic manner that represents all stakeholders. Wildlife is a public asset, not a resource belonging to a particular special interest group, yet the public is left out of important decision-making due to the insular and undemocratic nature of the Fish & Wildlife Board. Currently only representatives of consumptive, privileged, special interests get to make regulations and policy over these public assets.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should establish a standard that wildlife management be grounded in the most humane practices possible. For example, no drowning or leghold traps, no use of hounds to run down wild animals, and no wanton waste should be allowed.
Ecological thinking, democracy, diversity, fairness in action, and more focus on humane practices — all values absent today, but a great place to start as a foundation for bringing Vermont’s wildlife management into the 21st century.
Why wouldn’t we all accept those values and why are they currently absent?