Walter Medwid: Refocus Fish & Wildlife Mandate So It’s on Conservation

This commentary is from Walter Medwid, a Derby resident who serves on the board of the Orleans County Natural Resources Reserve.

Vermonters should rethink the Fish & Wildlife Department’s focus. Threats to biodiversity and changing human values ​​pose a challenge to the underpinnings of the department and the Fish & Wildlife Board.

The Fish & Wildlife Board has ultimate authority to make regulations and public policy on game species, such as seasonal trapping for bobcats and otters; the Fish & Wildlife Department only has authority over non-wild species such as bats and turtles.

These challenges require the Fish & Wildlife Department to move from its traditional emphasis on game and fish to a more ecologically focused, democratically inclusive agency that protects all of Vermont’s animal diversity.

Unfortunately, the department, board and our political leaders are trapped in a political quagmire that focuses on the symptoms of our broken wildlife management infrastructure rather than the disease itself.

The Fish & Wildlife Board (dominated by license holder interests) largely ignores the growing discord around its decisions and sticks to its political agenda in working seamlessly with the Fish & Wildlife Department to put license holder interests first.

Theoretically, the decisions of the Fish & Wildlife Board are based on science and values. And here’s the root cause of the swamp: whose values ​​count most in determining Vermont’s priorities, regulations, and government policies for fish and wildlife?

Many hunters and fishermen fear that any change in priority will diminish sporting opportunities. Others argue that the actions of the department and the board have always been aimed at promoting hunting and fishing at the expense of wildlife and ecosystems.

In response to the struggle, the legislature has the option to change the overarching and deeply outdated language in the section of Vermont Statutes, Title 10, Chapter 103 determining the policy under which the Fish & Wildlife Department functions. This anchoring language contains no reference to ecological approaches to management, respecting diverse natural values ​​and contemporary mindsets within the wildlife profession, endangered species, biodiversity, climate change, habitat protection or invasive species.

What is referred to as guiding policy is this: “A plentiful, healthy deer herd is a primary goal of fish and wildlife management.” Clearly, this simplistic and unique focus on deer is unrelated to the complexities of wildlife issues, values, challenges and citizens’ expectations that exist today. The policy burden on the Fish and Wildlife Department must reflect the reality and urgency of the 21 . reflectst century.

Science tells us that biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. Rising species extinctions, coupled with climate change, threaten the well-being of Vermonters and endanger the future of our children.

The current bad prognosis for wildlife was not present 100 years ago when fish and game departments were established with the main goal of preserving the fish and game harvest. Their goal of “use wisely, without waste” may have made sense in that earlier era — but not now. Times are different and public needs and values ​​have changed, but Vermont Fish & Wildlife remains a remnant of an outdated model.

Vermont is obligated to protect wildlife for present and future generations under Title 10. The sad truth is, Fish & Wildlife is failing. The historical focus remains on preserving food for fish and game, despite the fact that nearly 1,000 Vermont species have the greatest conservation need and also common species require stewardship.

The inconvenient truth is that the current mandate focuses heavily on recreationally and commercially valuable animals. As a result, the long-term health of biodiversity is endangered.

Clarifying the mandate around a top priority of preserving all wildlife for all people will provide unifying direction to the floundering board and strengthen the Fish and Wildlife Department’s biodiversity mission. An enhanced mandate will lead Fish & Wildlife to recognize that ensuring the long-term diversity, health, resilience and sustainability of wildlife as a public wildlife trust fund is its existential goal. The extraction of resources (hunting, fishing, catching) must be secondary.

Changing the purpose of the Fish and Wildlife Department recognizes that government agencies need to adapt as society’s needs and public values ​​change. The Fish and Wildlife Department’s shift to a more ecologically oriented agency that protects Vermont’s wildlife doesn’t mean eliminating hunting or fishing, but evolving our relationship with animals and nature.

This commentary is adapted, with permission, from an essay by conservation biologist Fred Koontz on conservation issues facing Washington State.

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Keywords: diversity of animalsbiodiversityclimate changeconservationdeer herdendangered speciesfishing and huntingsporting possibilitiesWalter Medwid


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