By Guy Page
A bill creating an unelected state board with oversight over the Vermont environment, including hunting and fishing, was scheduled for review this week by the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee.
H167 , sponsored by Committee Chair Amy Sheldon (D-E. Middlebury), Vice-Chair Jim McCullough (D-Williston), and Kari Dolan (D-Waitsfield) would “establish the Environmental Stewardship Board to oversee and consult with the Secretary of Natural Resources regarding the operation and coordination of the Agency of Natural Resources and the management, protection, and conservation of State surface waters, wetlands, wildlife, forests, Agency of Natural Resources lands, groundwater, air quality, and other natural resources.”
More specifically, the nine-member Environmental Stewardship Board would “review rules and rule amendments proposed by the Agency or the Fish and Wildlife Board to determine if they are consistent with science, to determine if they are consistent with the long-term health of Vermont’s ecosystems, to determine if they are consistent with State goals or policies, and to recommend revision to the proposed rules or proposed rule amendments or recommend adoption of additional rules.”
The bill appears to set up the Environmental Stewardship Board on at least equal footing with the Fish & Wildlife Board, long the bugaboo of hunting and fishing opponents: it shall “recommend to the General Assembly science-based policies for the management of the wildlife of the State, provided that the Fish and Wildlife Board shall retain authority… to adopt rules for the regulation of the taking of game fish, wild game, and fur-bearing animals that have open and closed seasons.”
While appearing to continue F&W Board authority to set hunting and fishing regulations, it would add another layer of regulatory review between the Board and the Legislature, and also offer proposed revisions to F&W Board rules and regs to the Legislature.
The proposed makeup of the board tilts environmental. The governor would appoint one member each from the F&W Board, the Endangered Species Committee, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and statewide groups promoting biodiversity, water quality, climate and air quality, forest conservation, pollution reduction, and solid waste management.
H167 is opposed by many in the hunting and fishing community, including former Rutland state senate candidate Terry Williams of Poultney. “Passage of H.167, in my opinion, will create an unnecessary, additional layer of bureaucracy to the process and is an attempt by the legislature to regain control of hunting, fishing and trapping and wildlife and reward their cronies by an appointment to this new committee,” he wrote in a letter to the editor to the Rutland Herald and Vermont Daily.