Effort to Grow F&W Board Not a Good Idea
Several groups who aren’t terribly fond of hunting have decided they need better representation on the Fish & Wildlife Board. That’s the board made up of folks who are appointed to oversee, hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife management in the state.
The board oversees the department, setting seasons, bag limits, and general policy not set in statute. They take the recommendations from the department, consider the social aspects along with the biological aspects, and -- giving deference to the biological -- make decisions.
Groups like Protect Our Wildlife and the Vermont Wildlife Coalition have decided that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department isn’t doing a good job because they haven’t changed their minds about trapping, coyote hunting, and other topics that POW and VWC are opposed to.
They’ve tried to affect change directly through the F&W board, as well as through the legislature, all while maintaining a public relations campaign.
As those efforts have failed, now they’re trying to get seats on the board to work from the inside.
The problem, for them, is that the board members are all hunters, anglers and trappers and they understand they’re not likely to get a governor to appoint an anti-hunter to a board that regulates hunting.
Along comes House Bill 336.
The bill, co-sponsored by James McCullough of Chittenden and David Deen of Windham, would add six nonconsumptive board members to the current 14-member board, creating a 20-member board, which would be renamed the Fish and Game Board.
That alone makes no sense. Why would they want to change the name adding “game” in place of “wildlife?” The term “game” denotes animals hunted for sport, or animals pursued in hunting.
In fact, most state agencies that make a name change have been doing it the other way around, dropping “game” in favor of “wildlife” to show expanding management efforts that extend beyond hunting and fishing. Vermont’s already ahead of the game in that regard.
Another part of this bill would create a Wildlife Management Advisory Board to advise the Fish & Wildlife Commissioner and the General Assembly on “issues involving the protection, propagation, management, and conservation of all fish and wildlife in the State.”
I always thought that was what the Fish & Wildlife Department was tasked with doing. Being professionals in their fields, it seems they are qualified to advise the commissioner and legislature.
Vermont Wildlife Coalition has laid out its arguments about the Fish & Wildlife Board and it brings up a good point or two that is worth considering.
One is the fact that the board is not elected and, according to the VWC, not accountable to anyone. Once appointed by the governor, board members serve six-year terms.
It does seem true that a board member could potentially go rogue after appointed. But it’s untrue they are not accountable to anyone. They’re accountable to the public who is welcome to attend a board meeting and confront the board at any meeting.
Also, the vetting process is pretty strong. While applicants are welcome to throw their hats into the ring, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes vetting that is done before any names are forwarded to the governor.
The department personnel know who has an interest in serving on the board as well as the temperament and knowledge to do a good job.
Another place the process is susceptible to criticism is in the area of conflicts of interest.
Because board members are usually active -- and usually passionate -- hunters, anglers and trappers, they are making decisions on issues that directly affect their passions, and occasionally, their businesses.
Board members are, or have been, guides, trappers, taxidermists, or in some way earn at least a portion of their living off of outdoor pursuits.
Does that make them unworthy of serving? I’d argue just the opposite. Being passionate about the subject is exactly the type of person who should be serving on this board.
I’ve not heard anybody leveling any accusations, but the potential exists, and as they say, perception is reality.
I’ve covered citizen boards and commissions like the Fish & Wildlife Board in five states and the issues have always been the same.
The only complaint I’ve ever had with a board member is when they don’t seem to care enough to study the issues, show up to meetings, or listen to the public.