By Guy Page
Fresh off of a Town Meeting Week of hearing many constituents demand action pro and con, and facing complex new drafts of once-simple, the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee this morning discussed postponing decisions until next year.
Vice-Chair Brian Campion (D-Bennington) promised to send his letter to other committee members recommending summer study of:
- S129, transferring rule-making authority from the Fish & Wildlife Board to the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, and de-emphasizing the more rural makeup of the board;
- S201, prohibiting the use of leghold traps; and
- S281, severely restricting the hunting of coyotes with dogs.
The committee is simply out of time. By Friday, March 11, the “crossover” deadline, bills must be approved by their committees of jurisdiction in order to advance for passage this year. With these three controversial bills, Campion said, “we’re not going to get there by Friday.”
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor) said a new draft of S281 allowing limited hunting of coyotes with dogs adds an unwanted wrinkle to an otherwise simple, “moral” bill.
“Surrounding an animal with a pack of dogs and nipping at it is unnecessarily cruel,” McCormack said. He was enthusiastic about the original bill. But the latest draft addresses Fish &Wildlife Dept. concerns about coyotes becoming a threat to pets, livestock and people by allowing limited, state-approved hunting. Now he wants to go slow. “When we start getting into the details, I don’t know if I feel confident,” McCormack said.
Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) wondered why coyote hunting was being placed “on our desks” when the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board hasn’t even been asked for a ruling. That’s their job and they should do it, he said.
Several senators noted the high volume of interest on both sides of this contentious issue. For example, land owners feel intimidated at asking armed men with dogs to leave their property, while hunters are defending their constitutional right to bear arms. Opponents of leg-hold trapping and coyote hunting say the practices are unnecessarily cruel, while supporters say they are often less cruel than nature.
Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Chris Herrick said that whether or not these bills proceed, a “Wildlife Congress” gathering Vermonters of diverse opinions would be helpful. The good news is that all Vermonters interested in wildlife share some common ground – they truly care about wildlife. We only disagree on priorities and details, he said.