Fish and Wildlife Commissioner resigns to act with Washington Electric Cooperative

Louis Porter
Louis Porter in 2019. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Governor Phil Scott searches for a new commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

Current commissioner, Louis Porter, will soon transition to a new role as general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative. He will leave the department at the end of October.

Porter, 45, takes over from Patty Richards, who ran the cooperative in Vermont for eight years. In May of this year, she announced her decision to step down. Founded in 1939, the electric utility is the third largest in the state, serving approximately 10,800 member-owners in Washington, Orange, Caledonia, and Orleans counties.

Porter said he has been a long-time member of the local electric utility and sees the new position as a continuation of a career in public service.

“I have a lot of respect and appreciation for the cooperative model on which it is based,” he said. “The fact that it’s a member-owned utility is a big draw.”

Porter has held a wide variety of positions in Vermont. He covered state politics as a reporter for the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus, then head of the Vermont Press Bureau. He took a job in 2010 as an advocate for Lake Champlain for the Conservation Law Foundation.

In 2012, Porter served as secretary of civil and military affairs under Shumlin before the governor appointed him in 2014 to head the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. When Governor Phil Scott took office in 2016, he kept Porter in office.

“Louis has been an exemplary commissioner in two administrations,” Governor Phil Scott said in a statement. “He has served the people of Vermont well and will fill big shoes at the Department. While we will miss him in the state government, I am confident he will continue to make an impact and would like to thank him for all he has done.”

Porter said he is proud of a number of the department’s achievements during his tenure, including preserving tens of thousands of acres, rewriting hunting and fishing regulations, launching a wetland restoration program for clean water, launching a habitat donation program and adding two conservation areas.

“As a cooperative, our mission is closely tied to the well-being of the people in the 41 downtown Vermont cities we serve,” said Stephen Knowlton, president of Washington Electric, in a press release. “It makes sense to choose someone to lead the Co-op who has a long history in the community and a demonstrated commitment to public service in Vermont.”

The cooperative helps other local businesses deliver high-speed internet to the communities it serves, and provides power to its members that comes from renewable sources.

Both Washington Electric Co-op and Vermont Fish and Wildlife “are tasked with managing and promoting a shared resource that is communal,” Porter said.

Porter’s last day at the department is scheduled for Oct. 29, and the governor’s office will begin a search for a replacement in the coming weeks, said Jason Maulucci, the governor’s press secretary.

Members of the Protect Our Wildlife advocacy group watch closely as the Scott administration begins its search for a new candidate. The organization’s president and co-founder, Brenna Galdenzi, said she hopes the government will appoint someone “willing to reach down the aisle and work with conservationists.”

Although hunting license sales have fluctuated lately — steadily decreasing before 2020 then increases during the pandemic — Galdenzi noted that the number of people viewing and photographing wildlife increasing

Porter said data shows that hunting under current regulations has not negatively impacted wildlife populations, and “in fact, hunting has been a vital part of the incredible recovery and recovery of species.”

Galdenzi said her group disagreed with Porter on things like coyote killing contests and a bill currently circulating in the legislature that would ban the wanton waste of wildlife.

Porter said the department’s policies have contributed to the recovery and recovery of animal species. He hopes that “people will evaluate its success based on science and data,” he said.

Galdenzi said he hoped there would be less division between her group and the next Commissioner.

“We cannot move forward in protecting wildlife in the 21st century with all the new challenges and threats, from climate change to all these diseases occurring in wildlife, if we don’t find ways to come together in areas of common importance,” she said.

Porter said he will bring an environmental lens to his new position.

“Climate change is becoming the challenge for animal species in Vermont and around the world,” Porter said. “Interestingly, the climate is also challenging for infrastructure, such as electricity companies supplying their customers.”

“This is the part of the world I grew up in, I want to live in and see success in,” Porter said.

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