Brenna Galdenzi: Vermont Fish & Wildlife is aligned with special interests

This commentary is by Brenna Galdenzi of Stowe, president of Protect Our Wildlife.

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

After being involved in wildlife advocacy 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 mean-spirited comments hurled at a US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Conte Wildlife Refuge biologist by a senior staff member at Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

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

Last summer, the Conte Refuge asked the public to comment on its 2021 Hunting Plan. Protect Our Wildlife and its members participated in the public comment process. We thought hounding should be prohibited on the refuge for numerous reasons, including disturbances to ground-nesting birds.

Protect Our Wildlife also asked that the use of lead ammunition be banned for hunting, considering its impact on the environment and birds of prey. You can read our letter here. POW acknowledged the need for the refuge to address the needs of both hunters as well as those who don’t hunt and prefer to connect with nature in other ways (eg, hiking, wildlife photography etc.).

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

When the Refuge published the results of its 2021 Hunting Plan last fall, they included minor changes, such as shortening the hound training season from June 1 to Aug. 1 and requiring permits (at no charge) for any hounds who runs three or more hounds. These changes were a far cry from what wildlife advocates wanted, but based on the reaction of senior staff members at Vermont Fish & Wildlife, you’d think the refuge had banned deer hunting.

Rather than accept that the vast majority of Vermonters are more concerned about protecting nesting birds or other at-risk wildlife than hound training, Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff members accused Protect Our Wildlife of recruiting people from out-of-state people to a petition. Like other accusations, this is false. In fact, you can see the petition here.

The director of wildlife at Vermont Fish & Wildlife, a public servant, delivered a letter to Sen. Leahy’s office on behalf of a private citizen (and hunder) who referred to Protect Our Wildlife as a “misinformed anti-hunting group” and other false allegations. This director of wildlife was also copied on the hunder’s request asking Leahy to divert crucial funding from the refuge and redirect it to Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

In one of the email exchanges, the Vermont director of wildlife said the following about the Conte Refuge manager: “My guess is he wants a promotion and is willing to sell his professional integrity. SAD.” He also said that the refuge manager was dishonest and unprofessional and that he lost all respect for him.

In addition to attacks made by Vermont Fish & Wildlife, a lobbyist who represents hunders (and trappers) instigated a letter-writing campaign to Leahy, urging him not to support future land acquisitions by the refuge. These are the same people who call themselves “conservationists,” yet they’re attacking one of Vermont’s two national wildlife refuges? The new Vermont Fish & Wildlife commissioner, Christopher Herrick, has asked everyone to respect differences and work together, but I guess that does not apply to his senior staff who disparage fellow biologists.

In a draft letter to the US Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the refuge’s new hounding restrictions, Herrick wrote, “… it drives a wedge between us and our many and varied constituents. I stress that going forward we do not want this example to be replicated nor utilized as an established precedent setting.” Who are these “varied constituents,” commissioner? One would argue that the refuge did, in fact, respond in a way that acknowledged both the needs of at-risk species — a requirement for refuges — as well as varied constituents.

Despite the fact that Vermont Fish & Wildlife is statutorily tasked with “safeguarding wildlife for the people of the State,” it is clear that senior staff, including the commissioner, work for privileged special interests. Wildlife advocates don’t have an “in” at Vermont Fish & Wildlife like this hounder and lobbyist did. And make no mistake, this pandering to a certain constituency has a long history. This is not the first time that Vermont Fish & Wildlife has shown favoritism to hounds, as evidenced here when they challenged a different shelter manager.

I am making a plea for the commissioner to stop using “science” as a cloak for policy decisions. Let’s be clear: Wildlife management is political and Vermont Fish & Wildlife senior staff operate more like lobbyists than those in charge of overseeing our shared wildlife.

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Tags: at-risk species, Brenna Galdenzi, Conte Wildlife Refuge, hounding training, Protect Our Wildlife

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