Vermont Successfully Defends Wildlife Management and Conservation Legacy

Vermont S.258 emerged as one of the most contentious wildlife and hunting-related bills in the state's recent history. Shortly after its introduction, the Vermont Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) team, alongside the broader hunting and fishing community, mobilized to successfully defeat this misguided piece of legislation.


Background and Intent of S.258


S.258 was a response to ongoing disputes over rulemaking decisions concerning trapping best management practices and coyote hunting with dogs. Instead of utilizing the established public input process facilitated by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, the bill proposed significant changes to the governance structure. It aimed to restructure the Fish and Wildlife Board to include representation from both licensed and non-licensed wildlife users. Additionally, it sought to transfer rulemaking authority from the Fish and Wildlife Board to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, a move projected to cost the department time and resources. The bill also aimed to ban coyote hunting with dogs.


The Battle Against S.258


The Vermont BHA's efforts to counter S.258 began in early January. Recognizing the bill's potential threat to the state's successful wildlife management model, the chapter swiftly organized support. When the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy in February, BHA members and other stakeholders provided passionate and informed testimony, including the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Despite this, it was evident that some committee members were determined to pass a version of the bill.


Anticipating a favorable report from the committee, Vermont BHA intensified its outreach. Members and supporters received clear instructions on how to engage in the legislative process, and the chapter maintained regular updates via social media and email. Notably, Chapter Board Member Matt Breton and Chapter Corporate Partner Adrian Guyer appeared on various podcasts to raise awareness and drive action. Despite these efforts, the bill passed through the Senate after some amendments and moved to the House.


House Deliberations and Final Outcome


In the House, the bill was sent to the Committee on Environment and Energy, where the debate intensified. Animal rights groups escalated their rhetoric, often targeting hunting advocates, which include some BHA members. Initially, invitations to give testimony in the committee favored the bill's proponents. However, BHA's continued advocacy ensured that several members provided individual testimony. A turning point came when BHA CEO/President Patrick Berry, with his unique perspective as a former Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department Commissioner and Fish & Wildlife Board member, delivered compelling testimony against S.258.


Ultimately, S.258 did not advance beyond the House Committee on Environment and Energy. Despite attempts to politicize the bill, the Vermont BHA team maintained a fact-based approach, fostering genuine relationships with lawmakers and enabling productive dialogue.


Looking Ahead


Although S.258 was defeated, the Vermont BHA anticipates further challenges. Animal rights groups are already preparing new versions of the bill. The hunting and fishing community must remain vigilant and ready to respond, even if the next battle arises at an inconvenient time.


In summary, the defeat of S.258 underscores the importance of continued engagement and advocacy to preserve Vermont's wildlife management practices.

About Chris Borgatti

BHA Eastern Policy & Conservation Manager

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