By Barbara Felitti

At the July meeting of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board (FWB), an FWB member recommended adding “manually applied blunt force” as a “best” management practice for killing a trapped animal. During the discussion about adding bludgeoning, an FWB member also recommended removing the word “humane” -- which perversely shows at least some level of recognition by the FWB that bludgeoning or blunt force trauma are not humane ways to kill wildlife.





The dysfunction of the FWB lies squarely with Governor Scott who appoints its members through a non-transparent process. The governor could use his authority to administer an open selection process which provides a balance of viewpoints among the hunting/trapping and wildlife conservation communities, but he chooses not to.

And it is not just the FWB that stymies wildlife legislation. Legislative committees also play a part.

In 2021, S.129 was introduced to make the FWB an advisory body and appointments more transparent and diverse. To give then newly-appointed Commissioner Herrick time to consider how to enact changes to the FWB, the legislation was tabled in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and a proposal made to send a letter to the Commissioner requesting him to identify possible changes. The committee chair later decided that “ongoing conversation” with the commissioner would be more useful, and the letter was never sent. The result? No changes were ever recommended by the commissioner, and the FWB continues to operate as usual, with a murky selection process for new members and only the interests of the hunting and trapping community represented.

This excessive deference is not an isolated incident. In the 2022 session, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy took the following actions:

  • 201, a bill to ban leghold traps, was enacted as Act 159 requiring the Fish & Wildlife Department (Department) to develop "best" management practices for trapping. This will allow the use of leghold and other traps to continue.
  • 281, a bill to prohibit hunting coyotes with dogs, turned into Act 165 -- a temporary moratorium on the practice while the Department develops ways to permit it. This will allow hound hunting of coyotes to continue.

It bears repeating that “best” management practices for trapping came about for economic reasons, i.e., to allow fur trade with Europe (which bans leg-hold traps) to continue, not for any concern about humane treatment of wildlife. These “best” practices are nothing short of whitewashing – trying to make an inhumane activity respectable and do not change the need to eliminate recreational trapping.



Similarly, the proposed new regulation for hunting with dogs will enable coyote hounding to continue, without voice or sight control of a pack of up to four hounds. The regulations essentially codify what hunters with dogs already do, and do nothing to upgrade protections for wildlife.

In all of these cases, the work of a senate legislative committee undermined efforts to get meaningful change to wildlife management practices. The original intent of the bills for the FWB, trapping and hounding were subverted in favor of the special interests that were to be regulated. To me, it appears that the fox is not only guarding the hen house, it is building the hen house to make it easier to raid.

How legislative committees work will be important when the Act 159 regulation for “best” management practices comes before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) in September, or when legislative committees take up new bills in the upcoming 2024 session: 

  • 323 – a prohibition on hunting bears and coyotes with dogs
  • 191 and S.111[1] -- restricting trapping to defense of property or crops, or by a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator
  • 22 – allowing the use of paint markings to post land (“purple paint bill”)

Legislators need to stop dodging wildlife management concerns with white-washing measures like “best” management practices. What is the difficulty in putting out a bill which maintains the integrity of its original objective for an up or down vote by the full legislature?

And if the governor doesn’t like a wildlife conservation bill and threatens a veto -- let him. It will allow voters to see exactly where he stands on these issues, and consider this when voting for governor in 2024.

It’s time for our elected officials to let the public know where they stand on wildlife management issues.  

Felitti lives in Huntington.