Brenna Galdenzi: Vermont Fish & Wildlife Tailored to Special Interests

This commentary is from Brenna Galdenzi of Stowe, president of Protect our wildlife.

We keep hearing “listen to the biologists” from senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff, but those same employees scorn outside biologists when they disagree with Fish & Wildlife policies that are often motivated by politics, not science .

Having been involved in advocacy for wildlife in Vermont for over 10 years, I am no longer naive about the role politics play in wildlife policy decisions, but I was surprised by the vile comments coming to the Conte Wildlife Refuge. biologist from a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were slammed by a senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife employee.

What caused the eruption of hostility? The answer: The refuge implemented minor training restrictions in an effort to better protect at-risk species, including the ground-nesting Canadian warbler and the American woodcock.

Last summer, the Conte Refuge asked the public for comment on its 2021 hunting plan. Protect Our Wildlife and its members participated in the public comment process. We felt that hunting at the shelter should be banned for several reasons, including disturbance of ground-nesting birds.

Protect Our Wildlife also called for a ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting, given its impact on the environment and birds of prey. You can read our letter here† POW recognized the need for the refuge to meet the needs of both hunters and those who do not hunt and prefer to interact with nature in other ways (e.g. hiking, wildlife photography, etc.).

But senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife employees have no interest in compromising or acknowledging differences, as evidenced by emails we obtained through a request for public records.

When the Refuge published the results of its… Hunting plan 2021 last fall they made minor changes such as shortening the hunting season from June 1 to August 1 and requiring permits (free) for any hunting dog that runs three or more dogs. These changes were a far cry from what wildlife advocates wanted, but based on the response from senior Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff, you’d think the refuge had banned deer hunting.

Rather than accepting that the vast majority of Vermonters are more concerned about protecting nestlings or other high-risk wildlife than training dogs, Vermont employees accused Fish & Wildlife Protect Our Wildlife of recruiting people from outside the state for a petition. Like other allegations, this is false. In fact you can see the petition here.

The director of wildlife at Vermont Fish & Wildlife, a government official, delivered a letter to Senator Leahy’s office on behalf of a private individual (and hound) calling Protect Our Wildlife a “misinformed anti-hunting group” and other false accusations. This director of wildlife was also copied at the hound’s request asking Leahy to divert critical funding from the sanctuary to Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

In one of the email exchanges, the Vermont Director of Wildlife said of the Conte Refuge manager: “I suspect he wants a promotion and is willing to sell his professional integrity. sad.” He also said that the center manager was dishonest, unprofessional and that he lost all respect for him.

In addition to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife attacks, a lobbyist representing hunters (and trappers) started a letter-writing campaign to Leahy, urging that he would not support future land acquisitions by the refuge. These are the same people who call themselves “conservationists,” yet they are attacking one of Vermont’s two National Wildlife Refugees? The new Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner, Christopher Herrick, has asked everyone to respect differences and work together, but I don’t think his senior staff discredit fellow biologists.

In a draft letter to the US Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the sanctuary’s new hunting restrictions, Herrick wrote, “…it drives a wedge between us and our many and diverse constituents. I emphasize that in the future we do not want this example to be replicated or used as an established precedent setting.” Who are these ‘diverse voters’, Commissioner? You could argue that the refuge actually responded in a way that took into account the needs of endangered species – a requirement for refuges – as well as its various constituents.

Despite the fact that Vermont Fish & Wildlife is legally charged with “protecting wildlife for the people of the state,” it is clear that senior personnel, including the Commissioner, work for privileged special interests. Wildlife advocates don’t have an “in” with Vermont Fish & Wildlife like this hunting dog and lobbyist. And make no mistake, this conceding to a particular constituency has a long history. This isn’t the first time Vermont Fish & Wildlife has shown favoritism to hounders, as it turns out here when they challenged another shelter manager.

I plead for the Commissioner to stop using “science” as a cover for policy decisions. Let’s be clear: wildlife management is political, and the senior staff at Vermont Fish & Wildlife act more like lobbyists than those responsible for overseeing our shared wildlife.

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Keywords: risk typesBrenna GaldenziConte Wildlife Refugehunting trainingProtect our wildlife

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