Jeffrey Mack: Fish and Wildlife Department does not represent me
From Animal Defenders of Westchester (ADOW)

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Jeffrey Mack: Fish and Wildlife Department does not represent me

Letter as published on VTDigger
May 4, 2021

This commentary is by Jeffrey Mack, a resident of Shoreham.

A recent commentary on Vermontís wildlife governance referenced this 2015 survey question, ďDo you agree or disagree that the department effectively balances the interests of anglers, hunters, conservation groups, and the general public?

The commentaryís author reported that 76% of Vermonters think that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is balancing interests. The survey actually found that only 42% of those polled strongly felt that the Fish & Wildlife was effective in that area. And only half of the hunters surveyed were very satisfied with the department.

As someone who has tried to work with the Fish & Wildlife Department on what should be areas of common interest, such as banning coyote-killing contests and the use of hounds to run down and maul coyotes, I can tell you that they have not represented me.

There are survey results to prove that Vermontís wildlife policies are out of touch with what Vermonters want, but the Fish & Wildlife Departmentís leadership conveniently ignores and even tries to discredit those survey results.

Perhaps more revealing about the state of the department leadershipís decision-making are the number of wildlife-protection related bills in the legislative hopper. Right now there are bills on banning wanton waste (the killing of wildlife for the sake of killing); making the Fish and Wildlife Board advisory and requiring greater diversity in appointments versus the current good olí boys club; ending recreational trapping and bear hounding; and a bill that would require control of bear hounds.

And before the Fish & Wildlife Board there are proposals to end the trapping of predators ó in light of the science on their role in enhancing natural systems ó as well as banning the use of live-action feed trail cameras that offer sportsmen an unfair advantage. The wildlife-friendly efforts before the insular Fish & Wildlife Board will likely never see the light of the day, just like back in 2019 when a majority of Vermonters, including myself, came out in support of a science-based, regulated coyote hunting season versus the current open season.

The suggestion that allís well at the Fish & Wildlife Department couldnít be further from reality.

To add to this mix is the curious and longstanding relationship between the Fish & Wildlife Department and the company that is hired to conduct their surveys, Responsive Management. Responsive Management is the go-to survey provider for fish and wildlife agencies across the country. Recently, Responsive Management and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department inked a six-figure contract to supply the department with data that is shared with legislators and the public to demonstrate just how well the department is doing. And when Responsive Management survey results donít work out how the Fish & Wildlife Department hopes, such as with lackluster results of Vermonterís support for trapping, the department suggests Responsive Management rerun the survey question during times of year when they might get a response more favorable to them. as evidenced here.

What is especially interesting is that sound survey results that show strong public disagreement with the departmentís agenda are challenged and discredited by the department. Specifically, results from the 2017 University of Vermontís Center for Rural Studies Vermonter Poll that revealed high public support for a trapping ban and a ban on wanton waste.

It seems that Fish & Wildlife Department leaders have lost control of their narrative. But it is their very narrative that has been the only narrative fed to the good people of Vermont for too long without full transparency and without the department stating its clear biases from the start, such as its main goal to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters.

So when youíre a hammer, everything is a nail. And when youíre Fish & Wildlife Department leadership, everything you do with respect to ďgameĒ species is through the lens of promoting and selling the consumptive lifestyle. I have nothing against deer hunting, but I do have something against being left out of important decision-making on wildlife that we all enjoy, albeit for different reasons.

The very fact that the Legislature must step up to address various wildlife issues is a clear signal of leadership challenges at Fish & Wildlife. When you have Fish & Wildlife leaders who wonít support a bill to end coyote-killing contests, yet eagerly approve a trapperís proposal to trap and kill MORE river otters, I would say that special, privileged interests are being served.

No amount of cherry-picked data from a friendly survey company can put lipstick on this disorder. To anyone who has tried to participate in Fish & Wildlife discussions ó whether itís regarding closing the open season on coyotes or protecting otters from additional trapping pressure ó I think you would agree that the Fish & Wildlife Department and the Fish & Wildlife Board are a far cry away from hearing our voices.  

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