Vermont BHA Opposes Legislative Bill to Eliminate the Fish and Wildlife Board


The Vermont Legislative session is in full swing and bills that will have a major impact on our ability to hunt, fish, and trap are up for discussion. 

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy will be taking testimony on S.258, an act relating to the management of fish and wildlife. This bill seeks to change many things about wildlife management in VT, potentially destroying many of the systems that historically have been a successful model of management for the wildlife and the citizens of Vermont. 

We are requesting that in the next few days to call and email the committee members and your own senator (found here) and respectfully request that this bill NOT advance out of committee.

Additionally, if you are able, please ask to testify about this bill.

Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy  

Senator Christopher Bray (802) 371-8183 [email protected]

Senator Anne Watson (802) 828-2228 [email protected]

Senator Dick McCormack (802) 793-6417 [email protected]

Senator Mark A. MacDonald (802) 828-2228 [email protected]

Senator Becca White (802) 777-4517 [email protected]

Judy Newman Committee Assistant [email protected]


This week, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy will be taking testimony on S.258, an act relating to the management of fish and wildlife. This bill will change wildlife management in VT by eliminating the citizen Fish and Wildlife Board that sets regulations for hunting, fishing and trapping in cooperation with Department of Fish and wildlife biologists, and replacing it with a non-geographically-representative board, two-thirds of which will be appointed by the legislature, some members of which would be explicitly prohibited from being hunters, anglers or trappers, as well as legislating other hunting regulations and changing the mandate of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Although there are elements of the bill that are well-meaning, S258 has the real potential to undermine scientific wildlife management in Vermont and the very foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the collection of laws and policies that has brought wildlife populations in Vermont back from the brink of extirpation 150 years ago, and which continues to fund and support a large portion of wildlife & habitat management for both game and non-game species today.

The main point of contention is that S258 completely eliminates the current F&W board, placing all hunting, fishing and trapping regulations in the hands of the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to be overseen by a new, smaller and non-geographically representative board appointed mostly by the legislature, and required to be at least partially filled with people that are not hunters, anglers or trappers. The Fish and Wildlife board, in cooperation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, sets regulations for hunting, fishing and trapping in Vermont as a means to sustainably manage wildlife populations around scientifically-based ecological targets, as well as to provide funding for conservation and management through license sales and matching federal funds which are based on license sales—in essence, under this system, opportunity to hunt, fish or trap creates general conservation funding, and the healthier game populations are, generally the more licenses are sold, and more funding is generated that can be applied to conservation benefiting both game and non-game species. Currently, harvest rules and regulations are the only authority the board has, and the regulations are already required to be approved by the legislature. Placing all regulatory authority in the hands of the Commissioner puts future rulemaking under the oversight of one political appointee, rather than the current representative system conducted in concert with the Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.

The bill also defines “non-consumptive user” as a person who doesn’t hunt, fish or trap, and requires appointment of “non-consumptive users“ to the new Board, to be appointed mainly by the legislature which is largely unfamiliar with the nuance of the topic. This provision defining and requiring “non-consumptive users” to be appointed to the board mandates that hunting, fishing and trapping seasons and harvest will be supervised by a potential majority possessing no background or first-hand visibility of the impact of those regulations, as well as without an appreciation for the value of leveraging opportunity toward overall conservation funding—indeed, organizations that are vehemently against all hunting, fishing or trapping have pushed for similar changes as a tool to reduce or eliminate those opportunities based on their philosophy, rather than on science. This literally opens the door for people who are expressly against anyone hunting, fishing or trapping in the first place, to be helping set policy for those activities, which is supposed to utilize that opportunity as a powerful tool to achieve greater conservation funding and value benefitting both wildlife and all Vermonters. Even if the intentions behind this provision are good, a wholesale reorganization of the process for regulating hunting, fishing and trapping has significant implications for the overall health of our wildlife populations and the habitats they depend on, and should involve a much larger conversation with stakeholders to identify what exactly are the issues attempting to be addressed, and what the best solutions are—this bill provides none of that.

Another problematic provision of S258 is that it will ban all coyote hunting with dogs, and will ban the use of bait for hunting or trapping coyotes. While this is a polarizing issue, legislating any harvest regulation prevents future adjustment of regulations in response to year-to-year environmental conditions or wildlife populations. Due to the slow pace at which legislation happens, regulating any harvest through legislation prevents using hunting or trapping as a future management tool that could be necessary in the face of the rapid development and resulting habitat fragmentation, introduction of invasive species, and climate change we are seeing now.

Summary of impacts of S.258:

  • Eliminates current F&W board
  • Replaces it with a new advisory board, 2/3 of which is appointed by Legislators (1/3 by the
    speaker and 1/3 by the committee on committees) and the last 1/3 to be appointed by the
    Commissioner of the Dept of Fish and wildlife.
  • Gives the new Board authority over Department policy and rules beyond the current scope of only game harvesting rules. This includes non-game species management and other policy issues not currently handled by the Fish and Wildlife board.
  • Defines “non-consumptive user” as a person who doesn’t hunt, fish, trap, or otherwise “extract” from wildlife.
  • Requires appointment of “non-consumptive users“ to the new Board.
  • Requires appointees to be trained by the department in wildlife biology, wildlife coexistence,
    reduction of human wildlife conflict, ethics, and climate change impacts on wildlife.
  • If the department creates a rule, they then must submit it to the board for review and the board may suggest changes. If the department does not do what the board tells them to do, they are required to file a written explanation of their decision with the board and the legislature.
  • Requires creation of a non-game fish and wildlife plan.
  • Removes the existing directive to maintain an abundant deer herd.
  • Removes language about the deer herd being a primary goal of the Department.
  • Outlaws the hunting of coyotes with hounds as well as using bait for the taking of coyotes
    (including both hunting and trapping).

If this bill leaves the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, we'll issue an action alert to have Vermont's hunters, anglers, and trappers write their elected officials to oppose S.258.

About New England BHA Chapter

New England BHA is a voice for the sporting community in New England that values solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers, and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife.