Walter Meadowed: Fish and Wildlife is unlike any other department in state government

This comment was by Walter Meadowed, a resident of Derby.

The steady stream of news stories and commentary on the topic of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s positions on a range of wildlife policies and practices continues into the new year with the passing of A dog killed in a body-crushing trap was rescued A wildlife group in East Corinth.

The event prompted wildlife advocates to indicate that they will, once again, resist Fish & Wildlife’s embrace of recreational hunting by supporting a bill to ban the practice. This ban would bring state policy in line with public sentiment based on the results of UVM’s Vermonter poll, which reveals that the public supports a ban on booby traps, homicide and drowning.

Trying to understand the multiple problems that revolve around Vermont’s fish and wildlife management is no easy feat, but it is made even more difficult by the fact that Fish and Wildlife is unlike any other department in all of Vermont’s government infrastructure.

First of all, Fish & Wildlife has no administrative authority over deer, bear, moose, coyotes, turkeys, or the dozens of other wildlife species classified by the legislature as “game.” This authority rests with the Fish and Wildlife Board made up of one volunteer citizen from each county, chosen by the governor from a pool of license holders.

The largely unaccredited Fish and Wildlife Board has broad regulatory and public policy authority over all types of game without the benefit of the public’s voice at the table. The board’s strength stems from the 1970s, when the push to professionalize government and reduce the power of boards stalled since license holders were in their heyday (license sales have since declined). The push to modernize the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife failed, the Fish and Wildlife Board retained its power, and the authority of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife remains imperiled to this day.

The second feature of Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife that is an exception is that unlike, say, the Departments of Health or Public Safety or Forest, Parks and Recreation, the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife holds no credentials in wildlife science, or even science, when The department claims to be science-driven in its posts.

The reason for this eccentricity in the executive branch goes home with a 2018 survey of Vermont Fish and Wildlife employees indicating that nearly half believe politics rival science in senior management decisions. Governor Scott now selected two commissioners who lacked credentials for the wildlife profession.

The third distinction that sets Vermont Fish & Wildlife apart from other divisions is that all of the nation’s leading wildlife organizations invite state wildlife agencies to transform in order to align with contemporary culture and wildlife challenges. Vermont, for example, has nearly 1,000 species listed as species in desperate need of conservation. This excludes approximately 150 threatened and endangered Vermont species.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wildlife Society, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (the group that represents the interests of state fish and wildlife agencies) have called on agencies to recognize that license holders represent only a small portion of the population.

In Vermont, 85% of the citizens do not fish, 80% do not fish and 99.999% do not fish. However, Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, with apparent support from the governor, has resisted any attempts to bring the state’s wildlife department to 21.St Century facts.

The fourth difference that makes the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife an exception is the serious misalignment of wildlife values ​​espoused by department employees versus those held by the public. In a scientifically conducted 2018 survey of Fish and Wildlife staff and the general public, the results showed stark contrasts.

For example, among those identified as maintaining traditional values ​​(wildlife should be used/managed for human benefit), nearly two-thirds of Fish and Wildlife staff scored in this category while less than a third of the public identified as traditional.

The audience got the highest score in the mutualism category (wildlife is part of our social network; we should appreciate coexistence). Less than 10% of employees at Fish & Wildlife identify as mutual.

It is clear that senior management at Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife favors applicants who reflect the non-representative values ​​of senior management, ignoring the department’s legal requirements to serve all citizens equally.

On top of all this, the 2018 survey found that nearly 90% of Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife employees agree with the statement that “public opinions in my state are changing regarding the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

However, the governor made it clear that Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife will remain in a time capsule despite the winds of change coming from major wildlife professional organizations, Fish and Wildlife staff, citizens, and increasingly from the legislature.

Ironically, the governor is best suited to take on the challenge of bringing Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to 21St Century is this ruler, whose political capital seems to be at an all-time high. However, there is little reason to believe he will have an epiphany to align the Department of Fish and Wildlife with its stated mission, contemporary culture and values, and pressing environmental challenges.

The legislature must address the quagmire in this agency. No department with a $26 million budget and about 200 employees, charged with protecting a wide range of precious natural resource assets, should operate in an orbit of its own.

The legislature needs a complete rewrite of the old language in the statute defining the role of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife consistent with the existing landscape, and second, diversify and make the Fish and Wildlife Board advisory only.

Let us complete the unfinished work from the 1970s to completely modernize, professionalize, and depoliticize all branches of government in Vermont.

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