For a few weeks this winter, I would end my day by checking the Vermont Legislature’s page to see if H.172 — “An act related to hunting and trapping” — had made it out of committee.
On the evening of crossover, the deadline for moving bills from one chamber to the other, it seemed like this piece of proposed legislation must have been too extreme for the committee to have taken up as part of its 2021 agenda and was pigeonholed.
Like most Vermont outdoors people, I am not a bear houndsman or a trapper and do not aspire to either. I do respect the history of trapping in Vermont and can see the merits of bear hunting. Both of them fit into our management plan quite well, as is.
More importantly, I realize that what befalls these two categories of the outdoors community is a harbinger of the fate of other less controversial outdoor sports, from waterfowling to bass fishing. There are multiple pieces of Fish & Wildlife-related legislation in the House Natural Resources Committee that should be of grave concern to anyone in the outdoor community, not just bear hunters and trappers.
H.172 includes language that would ban the hunting of bears with hounds, and is only one word away (bears) from the banning of hunting any game animal or waterfowl in Vermont with dogs — a serious concern for the future of waterfowl, grouse and rabbit hunting. The bill also includes language to remove the bear tag from a youth hunting license and end trapping as we know it in Vermont.
This is an obvious first stab at ending the generational transfer of our hunting culture to the next generation.
I was relieved that this was the final time I would need to check the progress of these bills, as though I were checking my lottery numbers, to see if we would get to keep our heritage for another year. But, a few days later, many of us in the Vermont hunting world started picking up chatter from online communities that these bills were still being discussed in committee and that testimony was being stacked six-to-one in favor of some of the very organizations that pushed the drafting of the bill in the first place.
I have watched portions of the House Natural Resources meeting streams and heard testimony from a very select group of anti-hunting and anti-trapping interests. There have been no trappers or bear hunters as witnesses. Nor has there been any testimony from anyone on the Fish & Wildlife board or from anyone focused on the wildlife management model used in Vermont — and all of North America — or the science behind trapping and its guidelines.
I am perplexed why there seems to be a real frontloading of anti testimony — Protect Our Wildlife, for example. Even if there is a strong push among the majority to get this bill to the House floor, it has long been the Vermont way to provide ample opportunity for those whose vested interest lay in the balance, to get their opportunity to speak their position.
It has become obvious that there is a strategy in effect by the committee chair, Rep. Amy Sheldon, a bill cosponsor, and vice chair, Rep. James McCullough, another cosponsor, to shelter their fellow committee members and viewers of the Zoom meetings archived on YouTube. Testimony from an articulate and informed Vermonter just could make them question the legitimacy of the bill.
During the Zoom committee meeting that followed, Rep. Kari Dolan — another bill cosponsor — added that she had cross-referenced hundreds of emails coming in against the bill, through the secretary of state’s office, and that “a share of” the emails were from out-of-staters, and that she “found that interesting.”
I found it interesting that mostly anti-hunting and anti-trapping, out-of-state-influenced special-interest groups were the lion’s share of a very small showing of witnesses for legislation that would end 300 years of Vermont tradition and outdoor heritage.
Like Rep. Dolan, I find the influence of out-of-staters on this legislation interesting also.
I also found her pointing this out to be quite hypocritical, since no Vermont trapper, bear houndsmen, scientist or Fish & Wildlife official was given the opportunity to provide testimony in committee. I’m quite sure that if this bill involved banning habitat fragmentation from mountain bike trail building or creating a reservation-only system for hiking popular trailheads, we would be hearing from those with a vested interest.
I am calling on all hunters, fishers and trappers to get involved with this legislation as soon as possible this session. We need to act as the biggest lobby group in Vermont and get the word out to our own representatives, the speaker of the House, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the governor that we demand better representation from witnesses, and that those with a contrarian take on this legislation should be heard.
It could be our most valued outdoor pastime that is next on the chopping block. We must see to it that no parts of Vermont’s outdoor culture we value are stripped from us and future generations, without so much as a chance to defend their merits.
Mike Stannard is a Vermonter, high school science teacher, fly fishing instructor, and father of three Vermont youth hunters and fishers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and an associate’s degree in environmental studies.