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VT: Elk hunt-park owner fined

September 1, 2010

Elk hunt-park owner fined

MONTPELIER - Doug Nelson, operator of the Big Rack Ridge elk-hunting park in Irasburg, was fined $4,250 on Wednesday for failing to comply with provisions of a law he himself had sought. Nelson was fined for failing to meet the first deadline under the new law, the Aug. 1 submission of a plan to manage his captive elk as well as the native deer and moose trapped inside his seven miles of fencing.

In a move that provoked much controversy in the hunting community, the state Legislature this year transferred oversight of the shooting park from the Fish and Wildlife Department to the Agriculture Agency.

The Legislature approved the proposal - which had been drafted behind closed doors, without the knowledge of Fish and Wildlife officials - on its final day.

Nelson had sought the transfer because Fish and Wildlife regulations would have required him to shoot all the native deer and moose inside his fence as a disease prevention measure. That included Pete the Moose, an animal rescued as a calf, given sanctuary at Big Rack Ridge and the subject of a save-the-moose online campaign.

The new law does not require the wild moose and deer to be liquidated, but will require at least some of them to be shot to keep their numbers under control.

Nelson, the state's largest dairy farmer, apparently has had plans for some time to sell the right to hunt whitetail deer behind his fences, according to his advertising.

Fish and Wildlife officials and some hunters were angry about the new law, saying it essentially gave Nelson ownership of wild deer and moose on his property. They also fear the elk herd could spread disease, although no evidence of disease has been found in Nelson's herd.

Nelson missed the Aug. 1 deadline, despite a July 7 letter from Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee outlining the requirement in detail and emphasizing the importance of compliance.

Instead, Nelson asked Aug. 2 for a two-month extension in filing his plan.

A hearing on that request was scheduled for Wednesday morning. Instead, Nelson agreed to accept a fine and signed a document committing him to supply his management plan by Sept. 10.

Nelson left the meeting without speaking to reporters. His lawyer, Brooke Dingledine, said her client regretted missing the deadline but was waiting for the technical assistance of a national deer management expert, James Kroll, who had not been available.

Dingledine declined to say why Nelson waited until after the deadline to request an extension.

"It is regrettable that the plan wasn't in on time," she said. "I'm not going to worry about the past. We are endeavoring to make sure all the Agriculture Agency's concerns are addressed."

She said Nelson has run his elk park according to best management practices and will continue to do so.

Allbee, the agriculture secretary, said he was "totally surprised" that Nelson failed to file his plans as required. "He had full knowledge of what we expected. He asked for this law."

Allbee said his agency has emphasized to Nelson that the wild deer and moose behind his fence are state property. They can be legally hunted at Big Rack Ridge during the state's hunting seasons. Any other plan to shoot them out of season would have to be approved by his agency, he said.

Allbee said he believes Nelson will comply with regulations in the future.

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