Scott Appoints 3 New Fish and Wildlife Board Members

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board Members
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board members hear public comments ahead of their 2019 board meeting. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Governor Phil Scott has appointed three new members of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Board, which has jurisdiction over hunting and wildlife regulations.

The board members are: Nicholas Burnham, resident of Hartland, Neal Hogan, resident of Bennington, and Robert Patterson, resident of Lincoln. Scott also appointed current Hardwick board member Brad Ferland as the new chairman.

All three new members “are passionate about the outdoors in Vermont and participate in activities ranging from backcountry skiing to mentoring new hunters,” a press release from the governor’s office said Tuesday. “All three cite a love of hunting that started during childhood as a driver for their dedication to conservation.”

Board members serve non-renewable six-year terms. The nomination process has been a source of controversy of late. Members usually have backgrounds in hunting or fishing, a fact that has been criticized by conservationists who say the board doesn’t fairly represent the interests of Vermonters who don’t hunt.

“Under the statute of Vermont, wildlife is a source of public trust,” said Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife Vermont. “Public policy is promulgated by 14 members who are all hunters, fishermen, or trappers. They make public policy decisions for the public on this shared public resource without broad public representation. That’s really the most important point.”

Lawmakers tried to change the nomination process at this year’s legislative session, which ended earlier this month.

As originally set out in the bill, S.129, the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and members of the legislature are said to have appointed the new board members in place of the governor. The measure would have changed the authority of the board so that the Fish and Wildlife Department, not the board, would have issued rules and the board would have acted in an advisory role.

While S.129 will not become law, Chris Herrick, commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department, said he is awaiting a letter from the Senate Natural Resources Committee “which would in effect instruct the department to demonstrate that it also votes from non-hunters in our policy making and working at the Fish and Wildlife Board with rules and regulations.”

Herrick said the department already has non-fighter voices, “but we’ll be clearer about how we’re going to do that going forward,” he said.

Galdenzi, wanting to see non-fighters serve on the board, referred to a study analyzing the nature value orientation of Vermonters.

Of the survey respondents, 25% identified as “traditionalists” who “believe that wildlife should be used and managed for human well-being;” 34% identified as ‘mutualists’ who ‘believe that wildlife is part of our social network and that we should live in harmony’ and 29% said they were ‘pluralists’ who ‘prioritize these values ​​differently depending on the specific context’. Another 12% said they felt more distant from wildlife issues.

Herrick said it is important for board members to know the specifics of the sport they regulate.

“You really want people who understand what’s going on in the forest, or when you’re fishing, to understand the impact of the policies you make as a board,” he said. “The example I’ve used is you really don’t want non-electricians on the electricians’ board.”

He said that board members who hunt are able to objectively evaluate hunting policy. For example, he said the board is currently looking into limiting the coyote hunting season.

Herrick said he expects the board to spend the summer implementing two measures that took this session out of the legislature. One requires the board to establish rules around the hunting of coyotes with dogs, and another that would pass best management practices for the use of leghold traps.

Burnham, the Hartland appointee whose first board meeting was last week, is a state employee with the Department of Corrections. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoys hiking and kayaking with his family, and has been a hunting instructor for 10 years, he said. Burnham applied to join the board because it was “another way of giving back to something important in my life.”

Asked if he’d be open to hearing from Vermonters who don’t hunt, Burnham said he has an open mind.

“Everyone’s opinion matters,” he said, “and we may not always agree on everything.”

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