By Guy Page
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy will hold a remote (virtual) public hearing on S281, hunting coyotes with dogs, and two other hunting-related bills Thursday, February 10 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The bills are:
• S.129, transferring rule-making authority from the Fish & Wildlife Board to the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife;
• S.201, prohibiting the use of leghold traps; and
• S.281, prohibiting hunting coyotes with dogs.
S129, sponsored by Sen. Brian Campion (D-Bennington), would transfer the authority to adopt rules for the taking of fish, wildlife, and fur-bearing animals from the Fish and Wildlife Board to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The bill would also amend the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Board so that it serves in an advisory capacity to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
S201, sponsored by Sen. Richard McCormack (D-Windsor), would ban the use of leghold traps. Violators would be fined not less than $200 or more than $500, or imprisoned for not more than 60 days, or both, for a first offense. For a second or subsequent offense, a person shall be fined not less than $500 or more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
S281, sponsored by the entire committee, would “prohibit the pursuit of coyote with the aid of dogs, either for the training of dogs or for the taking of coyote.” As reported Jan. 31 in the Vermont Daily Chronicle, in Vermont, coyotes can be hunted at any time during the year, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept. A regulated trapping season begins the fourth Saturday in October and runs through December 31.
The Eastern coyote (Canis latrans) is not native to Vermont. It moved eastward from west of the Mississippi and first appeared in Vermont in the late 1940s, according to this Fish & Wildlife page, which offers extensive information on the Vermont coyote.
The meeting will be held virtually due to pandemic restrictions. The notice does not provide alternatives for Vermonters living in rural areas with little or no internet connectivity.
All three bills were reviewed by the committee Wednesday morning. At the outset, Chair Chris Bray (D-Addison) called them all “full-fledged bills” with “much bigger topics” and that the committee would take testimony later on in the session, as well as at the public hearing next week.
The bills are inter-related, as demonstrated by the testimony shared by David Kelley of Montpelier, who said he enjoys hunting birds with dogs, but deplores their use for coyotes: “We have a Fish and Wildlife board today that sanctions killing as many eastern coyotes as possible and piling them up like cordwood morning, noon, night 365 days a year. That dismisses a proposal out of hand to disallow hunting with high-tech smartphones connected to live-action trail cams with virtually no discussion, likewise dismissing a petition to shorten the trapping season for otters to protect young river otters.”
Kelley applauded the recent appointment of former Democratic lawmaker and water quality conservationist David Deen to the board. He said Vermonters attitudes are changing from when he was a student at Otter Valley High and he and others brought their deer rifles to school with them in order to go hunting when school got out.
“The evidence that Vermonters are moving beyond a dominance mindset towards wildlife is overwhelming,” Kelley said. “The governance process we have in place for that wildlife should not be standing in the doorway.”
By contrast, Executive Director Mike Covey of the Vermont Traditions Coalition said the bills disrespect hunting and trapping as necessary wildlife management tools.
“To be blunt, we all understand that a goal of this bill seems to be the disruption and reduction of hunting in Vermont. “It’s both unnecessary and injurious to wildlife management. The concept that somehow respecting the tools of hunting and trapping as the wildlife management tools they are, and allowing us to continue utilizing those tools, is injurious to the public good is patently false.”
“This is not a zero-sum game,” Covey continued. “There are always excess animals on the landscape. Nature produces an excess in preparation for the winter months. The animals that we’re taking, those surplus animals, we’re reducing suffering by reducing those animal populations and keeping them within the habitat carrying capacity to the best of our ability. Which we can’t do perfectly. We still have starvation. We still have disease. But we can mitigate that through hunting and trapping.”
Covey defended the role and current “geographically diverse” makeup of the 14-member F&W Board, which includes one member from each county. Typically rural counties are under-represented in state government.
The full testimony of Kelley, Covey and all other witnesses may be seen, heard and read at the video of the hearing at the Committee’s YouTube site.
Anyone interested in testifying at next week’s public hearing must sign up in advance of the hearing through the online form on the Committee’s webpage.
Testimony time will be limited to two minutes per person. To submit written testimony, please e-mail an MS Word file or PDF file to firstname.lastname@example.org and include the Bill number you’re referring to the subject line.