Vermont Fish & Wildlife Opposes Petition to Prohibit the Killing of Black Bear Sows with Cubs

Hear the petition to prohibit the killing of sows with cubs at minute 13:00 of the April 26, 2023 Fish & Wildlife Board meeting.

On April 26, 2023, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VFW) addressed a petition at a Fish & Wildlife Board meeting requesting that state bear hunting regulations be amended to include a restriction on the killing of black bear sows with cubs. The March 8th petition was presented by Andrew Phelan, a Mad River Valley, Vermont landowner who’s front door camera captured images of a bear hunter in October 2022 killing a bear sow with two cubs. At least one of the cubs later died of starvation.

In his petition, Phelan states, “Deliberately killing a mother with cubs is cruel. In most cases, and as clearly demonstrated here, it leaves the orphaned cubs extremely vulnerable to suffering a prolonged and painful death from exposure, starvation, or predators. A regulation that bars deliberately killing mother bears with cubs, together with mandatory bear education that includes cub dependence and other salient bear/cub information would, every year spare dozens of helpless cubs the cruelty and pain the cub here suffered, require no substantial expenditure of money or time, and likely have broad support across Vermont, from both hunters and non-hunters alike.”

VFW’s Director of Wildlife, Mark Scott responded negatively to the petition, stating in an email, “The Fish & Wildlife Department recommended to the Fish & Wildlife Board to reject the petition to outlaw the shooting of sows with cubs because we feel that a regulation of this type will have little effect to protect bear family units. The Department for many years has strongly encouraged hunters to not shoot a sow if they see it with cubs. We have educated hunters for years on this subject. We currently have no data on sows harvested with cubs.”

The Fish & Wildlife Board agreed to table the petition until Fall 2023 when VFW could make a bear management presentation to the board and then consider any changes to current bear hunting regulations in Vermont. Scott stated that Vermont’s bear population is “stable for the last ten years and its fluctuating at numbers…that its higher than our overall goal that we set in the 10 year Big Game Plan that’s 3,500 to 5,500…We don’t know how many sows are getting shot out there with cubs.” Scott argued that its possible for a hunter to shoot a sow and not know she has cubs and that he personally doesn’t know any hunters that would willingly shoot a sow with cubs.

The petition to end the killing of sows with cubs and Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting minutes.

Despite the presentation of clear evidence from the Mad River Valley incident that bear hunters in Vermont do indeed shoot sows with cubs because it is not prohibited, VFW is arguing that there is not enough data to warrant a bear hunting rule change and that further education, not regulations are more effective at preventing the intentional killing of sows with cubs. Current text in Vermont’s bear hunting rules state, “the Department recommends not shooting sows accompanied by cubs or a bear that is part of a group of bears as bears seen together in the fall are most likely a female accompanied by her cubs.”

Other text in bear regulations urges hunters to be ethical and humane, including to spare sows because the “cubs are still dependent on their mothers this time of year and will stay with her until the following spring.” As the 2022 Mad Valley River incident proves, these recommendations can be legally disregarded by hunters. The Mad River Valley hunter showed nothing but contempt for the Department’s recommendations and appeal to humane hunting. As long as the killing of sows with cubs is simply discouraged and remains legal, many unethical hunters will continue these types killings.

In Vermont, all purchasers of a deer hunting license are also given a permit to kill black bear at no additional cost. This practice means that while deer hunting in Vermont, a licensed hunter encountering black bear can legally attempt to kill the animal, despite knowing how to sex a bear, proper shot placement or being aware of bear biology and the likely close proximity of cubs with sows. VFW’s opposition to the petition to ban the shooting of sows with cubs can be seen as an endorsement of the practice as well as further evidence that as long as black bear as a species are abundant in Vermont, individual concern is misplaced for sows that are actually killed while accompanied by cubs.

Please join Vermont Wolf Patrol in calling for a prohibition on the killing of black bear sows with cubs. Many states have already adopted such rules and such prohibitions would increase tolerance of bear hunting practices in Vermont, rather than creating more opponents to the practice as a whole, because of VFW’s refusal to forward petitions by citizens opposed to controversial hunting practices such as the killing of sows with cubs.

Vermont’s current bear hunting regulations do not prohibit the killing of black bear mothers with cubs.

Please contact Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Director of Wildlife, Mark Scott and ask that the department support the petition to prohibit the killing of black bear sows with cubs!

Comments Needed in Support of Hunting Hound Restrictions on Vermont’s Conte National Wildlife Refuge

Endangered Canada lynx on the Conte National Wildlife Refuge are impacted by Vermont’s early bear hound training season which starts June 1st.

In 2021, refuge managers at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge introduced limited restrictions on hound hunting and training in portions of the 40,000 acre refuge to protect lynx and numerous forest nesting birds that are vulnerable to dog activity. Like most national wildlife refuges, at Silvio Conte, public hunting is allowed. Vermont hound hunters were outraged at the restrictions and last year a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the lobbyist group, the Sportsmen’s Alliance, Vermont Traditions Coalition, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and the Vermont Bear Hound Association. The hound hunting groups have asked a federal court to negate the 2021 restrictions.

In response to the suit, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has reopened the Conte Hunting Plan for comment, but only until May 25th, 2023. It is important for the public to comment in support of science based decisions to protect endangered and critical species in Vermont, especially when special interest groups like the Sportsmans Alliance are fighting any restrictions on hound hunting activity in Vermont, despite its adverse impact on wildlife.

Hounds like these can adversely impact or kill lynx kittens during Vermont’s three-month training season.

These are the three restrictions in the 2021 Silvio Conte refuge hunting plan that the Sportsmans Alliance and hound hunters are opposed to: 

  1. Hunters using more than two dogs must obtain a Special Use Permit from the Refuge Manager.
  2. At the Putney Mountain Unit of the Conte Refuge, dogs may not be used for hunting any species other than ruffed grouse.
  3. The dog training season has been reduced to a one-month season beginning August 1. Hunters must obtain a Special Use Permit to train their dogs.

In April 2023, FWS responded to the lawsuit saying, “A Supplemental Environmental Assessment is being prepared in response to recent litigation and is an effort to avoid further litigation over issues that can be easily remedied. Therefore, the Service is reconsidering its August 2021 decision regarding dog training and hunting on the Conte NFWR.” In defending their decision to limit hound training and hunting in the Conte Refuge, FWS says hunting and dog training can have direct and indirect impacts on both target and non-target species. These impacts include direct mortality of individuals, changes in wildlife behavior, changes in wildlife population structure, dynamics, and distribution patterns, and disturbance from noise and hunters walking on- and off-trail (Cole and Knight 1990, Cole 1990, Bell and Austin 1985).

From the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge New Hampshire and Vermont Recreational Hunting and Fishing Plan April 2023:

It is widely recognized in the scientific literature that domestic dogs can negatively impact the distribution, abundance, ability to provision young and overall productivity of nesting birds. The associated impacts from domestic dogs are based on the type of species, time of year, location, type of use, frequency, and duration (Hennings 2016, Weston et al. 2014, Hughes 2013, Steven et al. 2011, Young et al. 2011, Showler et al. 2010). Based on the available literature pertaining to recreation disturbances on wildlife (Doherty et al. 2017; Lepe et al. 2017; Hennings 2016; Weston et al. 2014: Macdonald 2013; Showler et al. 2010; and Sime 1999), the training of dogs will occur outside of the migratory bird breeding season to limit disturbance to ground/shrub nesting migratory birds during the breeding season.

In 2021, 11 species of forest nesting birds on the Conte Refuge that breed in the northern part of the Connecticut River watershed were in the Birds of Conservation Concern report. The increase in the number of species of forest nesting birds that are of conservation concern on the refuge indicates populations of additional species are declining within the region. Of particular interest to the Conte Refuge are Canada warbler, rusty blackbird and veery, as these three ground/shrub nesting birds are likely to be impacted from disturbances associated with frequent pursuit dog training on the refuge. These three species of conservation concern are known to breed and nest on the refuge in areas that are regularly used for dog training.

Furthermore, as part of the development of the Conte Refuge’s 2018 Habitat Management Plan for the Nulhegan Basin Division, the refuge identified focal conservation species (American woodcock, blackburnian warbler, black-throated blue warbler, Canada warbler and rusty blackbird). All but the blackburnian warbler are ground/shrub nesting species that are protected by the FWS as trust resources that will likely be impacted during the breeding season due to repeated disturbances associated with dog training. Recognizing that the Nulhegan Basin is one of the largest remaining intact lowland softwood habitats in New England (outside of Maine), the refuge provides critical habitat to forest nesting migratory birds. Based on the observations of the FWS, lowland softwood sections of the refuge have received daily visitation throughout the breeding season from individuals that train their dogs in the same areas where listed Birds of Conservation Concern and focal conservation species are known to nest. To avoid disturbances to ground/shrub nesting birds, dog training will be prohibited during the migratory bird breeding season.

Spruce grouse are listed as endangered in the state of Vermont and are protected by the Vermont Endangered Species Act. The Conte Refuge’s legislated purpose ‘to conserve, protect, and enhance the natural diversity and abundance of plant, fish, and wildlife species, and the ecosystem upon which these species depend within the refuge’ requires that the State listed spruce grouse be afforded protections to limit the species from being negatively impacted by hunting and dog training on the refuge. Though spruce grouse are known to nest on the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area and Victory Basin Wildlife Management Area, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2012 Spruce Grouse Recovery Plan identifies the Nulhegan Basin of the Conte Refuge as providing three quarters of Vermont’s current spruce grouse habitat. The VDFW advises hunters not to hunt ruffed grouse in areas where spruce grouse are known to occur. Dog training is prohibited on the refuge during the breeding season to protect nesting spruce grouse.

Canada lynx and Northeastern bulrush have been documented on or in the vicinity of the Conte NFWR divisions and units in New Hampshire and Vermont. Due to the species’ specific habitat requirements, the status of species and the time of year that hunting and dog training would take place, hunting and the training of dogs, may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect these species. A recent endangered species consultation determined that the refuge’s current dog training season, which occurs from August to September, reduces the potential impacts to Canada lynx. Dog training that occurs between May and August may have indirect and direct impacts to lynx kittens when they are vulnerable in den sites. 

Please write your comments today supporting efforts to protect endangered lynx kittens, Canada warblers, spruce grouse and other forest and ground nesting birds at risk!

The deadline for filing comments is May 25, 2023. For more information on the revised hunt plan and where to comment, please visit

Canada warbler are a species at risk that can be negatively impacted by Vermont’s three month bear hound training season.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott Appoints Trappers to Wildlife Board As Agency Begins Process on New Trapping Rules

April 5th Fish & Wildlife Board meeting where furbearer rule making procedure as directed by Legislature began.

Vermont’s trapping, hunting and fishing regulations are set by a 14-member civilian board with each member representing a county in Vermont for a term of six years. Biologists with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) make recommendations, though the Fish & Wildlife Board has the final say. Last June, Governor Phil Scott signed Act 159 into law which directed the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to submit to the General Assembly recommended best management practices (BMPs) for trapping that propose criteria and equipment designed to modernize trapping and improve the welfare of animals.

According to Act 159, “The BMPs shall be based on investigation and research conducted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and shall use the “Best Management Practices for Trapping in the United States” issued by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) as the minimum standards for BMP development.” After submission of the BMPs to the Legislature in January, the act now requires the Fish and Wildlife Board to revise the rules regulating trapping in the State so they are at least as stringent as the BMPs for trapping recommended by the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.

Beginning in Fall 2022, Vermont Fish & Wildlife working closely with AFWA, held two working group meetings to identify proposed changes to the state’s trapping rules and one public hearing to solicit comment. Before the recommended changes were introduced to the Fish & Wildlife Board in March 2023, Governor Scott appointed Irasburg resident Paul Noel to the board as a representative of Orleans County. Noel is also a vocal member of the Vermont Trapper Association, in a January commentary he wrote, “Regulated trapping and harvest will increasingly be more of the solution rather than the problem in the future by keeping furbearers in harmonic alignment with biological and societal carrying capacities.”

In February 2023, Rutland County Fish & Wildlife Board member and trapper Marty Van Buren’s term was set to expire. Van Buren had been originally appointed in 2020 to complete the term of another board member who resigned. In January 2023, Van Buren wrote a letter to the Governor asking to be re-appointed for a full six-year term, “I have enjoyed my time working with fellow board members, and I have been selected to be on a special committee for the trapping bills coming up (#159)…” Van Buren also owns a sporting goods store in Poultney saying, “I hunt, fish and trap, and I talk to my customers about what their wants and needs are. You know, everyone’s got his opinion. We can bring that to the board,” he said.

At the April 5th meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board, Noel didn’t waste any time pushing his pro-trapping agenda. An active trapper, Noel argued for the introduction of drags to be used in trapping. At the April 5th meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board, Noel didn’t waste any time pushing his pro-trapping agenda. A trap drag is an object, usually in the shape of a grapple or hook, that is not fastened to anything but the trap chain, and allows the animal to leave the area and drag it along away from the trap bed. Noel argued that a trapped animal on a drag set is less likely to be seen by the public, as the animal is in theory able to hide rather than be exposed at a trap set. The Board acted instantly, and without any input from the Fish & Wildlife’s furbearer department or public, voted to include the use of drags in the rule making process for supposed improvements to trapping in Vermont.

Also at the April 5th meeting, when the board’s only non-hunter, David Deen asked to have a discussion on kill techniques or “methods of dispatch” used in Vermont, both trappers on the board remained silent. Noel is a chief instructor for trapper education and is well versed in recommended kill techniques taught to new trappers. These include .22 caliber shot to the head, cervical dislocation or clubbing and chest compressions which is essentially standing on a trapped animals’ rib cage until it suffocates. Both trappers know such conversations would not be well received by the public.

For at least the next six years, trappers and hunters will continue to dominate control of Vermont’s public trust wildlife

The appointments of Noel and Van Buren ensure that a super majority of hunters and trappers control the Fish & Wildlife Board and hence wildlife policy for the state. According to a review of press releases from the Governor’s office announcing Fish & Wildlife Board appointments, of the 14 all white board members appointed by Governor Scott, only one, David Deen is not a hunter but instead served years as a Legislature. In Vermont, all wildlife is legally in the public trust and the mission of Vermont Fish & Wildlife and the Board is “the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont.” Yet while only 13% of the state’s residents hunt and less than .05% trap, hunters and trappers easily make up the voting majority of the Fish & Wildlife Board.

An Indigenous Perspective on the Fur Trade & Trapping

17th Century Dutch fur traders bartering with indigenous Americans for now extinct eastern buffalo hides.

I moved to Vermont in 2019 and live on a sanctuary that is home to moose, bear, coyote, bobcat and until recently, beaver. I am a caretaker of these wild and wetlands. I am also a descendent from the Yoeme Nation, (more commonly known as Yaqui Tribe). I would like to speak to the heated debate about trapping in Vermont, and the history of the fur trade in New England. Last October, when a trapper hired by the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) came onto our lands and killed every beaver in the colony we share our land with, I learned that in Vermont it is legal to use body-gripping and foothold traps to drown beaver, otter, mink, muskrat in all waterways including our protected lands. I also discovered that the trapper hired by VTrans was cited in 2022 for taking a fisher out of season when the injured animal was discovered on a snowmobile trail with a body-gripping trap crushing its mouth and head. 

Like a lot of indigenous people, I did not grow up in my own culture, with my own language or in my homelands, but I was still always taught to respect nature and animals. I have lived on our reservation in Arizona, learned from my elders, participated in ceremonies and been blessed to know many of this country’s traditional indigenous elders. The first time I participated in a traditional ceremony, I heard Lakota elders praying to animals and plants as well as to our human ancestors. In the years since, I have been fortunate to experience indigenous ceremonies that were once illegal in this country because they represented a worldview that saw animals as our sacred relations.

16th Century carving of a black bear by Pawtucket artist, name once known. This bear may have been created just before European settlers arrived in present-day Salem, Massachusetts displacing the Pawtucket already living there.

What my culture has taught me is despite centuries of persecution, indigenous people today remain a proud distinct people with worldview that place animals, plants, rivers, forests and people in the same circle. We are all related. My elder, Anselmo Valencia Tori, spoke to animals and spirits. He used to say that when he was my age, their voices were much louder. Albert White Hat was a Sicangu Lakota elder I knew who spoke of the time when animals and humans were more closely related. His ancestors fought a war to save the buffalo. He used to say when humans are ready to live in harmony again with all life around us, animals that we thought were gone forever, like the wolf, will begin to return. I am one of the many people who are ready to live in such peaceful coexistence with the natural world of these once and still sacred lands. 

A bit of history. By the early 17th Century, Europeans had decimated their native furbearer populations and needed a new source for their exploding fur market. The fur trade turned to North America and thus began centuries of violence against the indigenous inhabitants and native furbearer populations. Entire indigenous nations were wiped out or forced to assimilate into other tribes and colonial life, all because of the economic demands of the fur trade. In 1620 Samuel de Champlain listed, “bufles (buffalo) moose and elk” as important resources in New France. By the time of the first European settlement in Vermont in the mid-18th Century, many species were already near extinct because of the fur trade. Other non-furbearer native species to Vermont like Bison, Caribou and elk would soon be wiped out in the early colonial period. 

Gone but not forgotten. The last reported elk in Vermont was one that was killed in Concord in 1908.

The first wave of European fur traders in North America also brought diseases that literally wiped out entire villages in what is today New England. A Smallpox epidemic introduced by a Dutch fur trader in 1633 left a community of 1,000 with only 50 survivors. Before the epidemic ended, a number of tribes had lost their individual identities in the land we now call Massachusetts. Remnant indigenous survivors were quick to join the fur trade, not because they wanted to, but because it was the only way to survive. Without the stability of pre-contact communal life, many indigenous people became trappers to obtain the guns, powder and metal tools they needed for survival and subsequent warfare as tribes fought for the control of lands to exploit for fur. 

For almost the entire 17th Century, the French, English, Dutch colonists and indigenous nations fought violently for control of the new fur trade from New England to the Ohio Valley. It was even called the Beaver Wars, though most of us know it as “The French & Indian War.” I am opposed to the commercial fur trade, not because I am an animal rights activist, but because as an indigenous person today, the fur trade and trapping still represents a historic institution of colonization and assimilation that continues today with our government’s support. That kind of support is clear and abundant when Vermont Fish & Wildlife (VFW) defends its partnership with trappers today while at the same time distancing itself from the bloody history of the commercial fur trade in North America.

Massacre of the Pequots when over 500 mostly women and children were burned in their village by Connecticut colonists in 1637.

In January 2023, Paul Noel, a vocal trapper and member of the Vermont Trappers Association wrote a commentary describing trapping as, “The ecological understanding and reverence that we feel is enhanced by direct experience with the natural world, and lessened by the lack thereof. Trapping, hunting and other consumptive activities provide a historical conduit to that world. That ancient, indigenous wisdom should remain intact.” Noel was appointed to the Fish & Wildlife Board in March 2023. Another trapper, Marty Van Buren was recently re-appointed to a six year term on the Fish & Wildlife Board as the agency begins the rule making process for Vermont’s new trapping rules.

Promoting trapping as a way to live harmoniously with nature becomes a false narrative when it implies itself to be part of indigenous wisdom. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word indigenous as; “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.” and “(of people) inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists.” While North American indigenous peoples have always used hides and fur for clothing and shelter, the way we lived with wildlife before the introduction by early Europeans of disease and the commodification of our animal relations compares not at all to the commercial exploitation of furbearer species on this continent by trappers and the fur trade. Early indigenous communities in present-day New England practiced conservation using closed seasons on hunting, cultivation of grasses and controlled burning to improve habitat for elk, deer and other animals.

Slide from 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department presentation.

In a February 2023 commentary, Mike Covey of the trapping lobbyist group, Vermont Traditions Coalition, which proclaims to be, “Representing Vermont’s Original Conservationists and Environmentalists” wrote, “In a time where we are striving to reach a standard of inclusivity, the only thing we should be legislating against in Vermont is hypocrisy and hate, not a healthy self-sufficiency in harmony with the renewable life cycle of nature.” Covey present’s Vermont’s 300 licensed active trappers as an oppressed minority and equivocal to victims of hate. The minority defense is part of the narrative promoted by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and Vermont Fish & Wildlife. AFWA staff regularly work with member agencies, including the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Furbearer Management Team, and have developed a strategic plan for effective communication about regulated trapping and furbearer management. Here is a passage from AFWA’s “Regulated Trapping and the North American Conservation Model”: 

In the United States, Jeffersonian democracy protects the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority who may wish to impose their will and standards. Within the public, furbearer trappers, and hunters, are a minority group…their opportunities to access wildlife that is allocated by law should be protected if we are truly a free people.” 

When I hear trappers claiming to be an oppressed people, I hear the continuing perpetuation of a historical hypocrisy and hate by the same colonial forces responsible for destroying our way of life they now claim was their own. Trappers in the bygone era did not live in harmony with nature, they were responsible for the extinction of both humans and animals. The minority experience in America is a long history of violence directed against other Americans based on their race, religion or beliefs. Global opposition to the inherent cruelty associated with trapping and the fur trade has led to its steady decline. Simply because a few hundred people in Vermont cling to this practice does not make them minorities or oppressed. Another misrepresentation promoted by VFW is that “regulated” trapping is not responsible for the wrongs of the fur trade in past centuries yet, Vermont’s trappers still claim trapping as a centuries old tradition. 

Lastly, I want to draw attention to the current legal methods for trapping fisher and beaver in Vermont. I am citing a published research paper on tests conducted on live fishers at the Fur Institute of Canada’s research facility in Alberta in 1997. Best Management Practices (BMPs) for trapping were first created by the international fur industry itself, in response to the 1991 European Union’s ban on the importation of fur from animals caught with inhumane traps. Since then, there have been ongoing experiments in Canada supported by AFWA & VFW where anesthetized animals are placed in body-gripping kill traps to test if they are killed within 5 minutes in 70% of the tests, as required to meet trapping BMP standards.

Canadian researchers concluded that some body-grip traps currently in use in Vermont, “failed to render irreversibly unconscious in 3 min. Fishers single-struck in the head-neck region, or double struck in the neck and thorax regions. Although the Conibear 220 trap is often recommended as an alternative to the steel leghold trap, it is unlikely that it has the potential to humanely kill fisher.” Yet this trap will still be legal to trap fisher in Vermont under the new Best Management Practices. Included in VFW’s January 2023 report to the Vermont Legislature is a request to allocate $300-400,000 to reimburse the costs to Vermont’s trappers for new BMP traps that will still kill inhumanely. 

Trap research experiments conducted, not to save lives, but in order to refine killing methods to produce a fur garment, are not what I want one cent of my taxes to pay for. The live fishers used in these experiments are fully conscious when they are placed in these traps, they have only been immobilized with Ketamine which is a paralytic not anesthesia. Like a lot of people fortunate enough to live in the forests of Vermont, I have grown a special kinship to my nonhuman neighbors. I’ve seen moose, bear and fisher all raising their young on this land that owns me. I have also met trappers who are good people and believe some to be true naturalists and ecologists, but as in any practice, there are those who don’t follow the rules, like the 30% of licensed Vermont trappers who fail to return mandatory kill surveys according to VFW.

1991 news article on underwater trap researcher, Fred Gilbert whose drowning experiments on beaver, otter and mink drew national attention.

So when I hear Vermont’s trappers talk about their traditions and not wanting to change, I remember the trauma indigenous peoples have suffered for centuries for simply wanting to survive and honor their own traditions. I think of the herds of bison, elk and caribou that once existed and that I’ll never see because of the rapacious behavior of the fur trade and early colonists. In order to co-exist with our ever-growing neighbors, we must all be willing to change and evolve towards a more peaceful way of living with everyone around us. After four centuries, the fur trade continues to violently impact my life and the lives of our animal relation in “New England.” Vermont’s furbearer are more important than the data collected from their carcasses and the money still paid for their pelts on the open fur market. It’s time to put trapping in the history books and move towards more nonlethal and peaceful solutions to conflicts with the wildlife and people around us. 

Mink crossing a Vermont beaver dam, April 22, 2023

Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Board to Vote on Recommended Changes to Trapping Laws at April 5th Meeting

Presentation on Trapping BMP’s to Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy March 23,2023

On April 5, 2023 the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board will meet to vote on various petitions related to the establishment of a coyote hunting season, wolf recolonization and recommended changes to current trapping practices. In addition, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) will be reviewing the proposed changes to the state’s “furbearing species rule” which will become new trapping regulations, most likely in the 2024-25 trapping season.

To attend and/or testify at the 5pm (EST) April 5th, 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting click the link above

Act 159 (S.201) which was signed into law in June 2022, directed the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to, “submit to the General Assembly recommended best management practices (BMPs) for trapping that propose criteria and equipment designed to modernize trapping and improve the welfare of animals subject to trapping programs.” The act requires the Fish and Wildlife Board to revise the rules regulating the trapping of furbearing animals in the State so that the rules are at least as stringent as the BMPs for trapping recommended by the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.

On March 23, 2023 the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, Christopher Herrick and retired Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) furbearer biologist, Kim Royar provided an update on Act 159 progress to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy ahead of the first vote by the Fish & Wildlife Board on the recommended changes to existing trapping rules. Representatives from the Vermont Wildlife Coalition and Protect Our Wildlife were also invited to testify (see video above).

Rulemaking timeline for proposed trapping rule changes.

After filing with the Secretary of State in May 2023, VFW says there will be a public comment period and two public meetings (June 19-21) to solicit public comments on the trapping changes. A final vote on changes by the Fish & Wildlife Board will probably occur in September or October 2023. The public is strongly encouraged to participate in this rule making process, although the changes do not recommend significant changes to trapping practices in Vermont.

In their presentation to the Senate Committee, VFW’s Royar made many statements that were immediately refuted by Vermont Wildlife Coalition and Protect Our Wildlife. Vermont Wolf Patrol would also like to provide rebuttal to what we believe were misleading statements to cast trappers in a positive light to the Committee.

VFW slide from furbearer presentation to Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board March 15, 2023.

First, was the assertion that trapping is a critical wildlife management tool and “a benefit to furbearer populations in the long-term.” Royar testified that Vermont’s 300 active trappers are “citizen scientists” providing the data VFW needs to monitor furbearer populations, “There really is no other way for us to collect the kind of data that we collect.” Yet at the March 15, 2023 Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting, VFW furbearer biologist, Katherina Gieder listed other data sources such as remote cameras, deer hunter sightings, public reports, roadkill and research studies. “Because you really do have to try to rely on a broad range of information for managing such a broad species.” Still, the biologist asserts that trapper harvest data is “the most important source of information we have for wildlife monitoring.”

Non-lethal hair traps are another reliable way wildlife researchers gather data on furbearer in the United States.

What both VFW furbearer biologists fail to mention about the trapper surveys that are so important for managing furbearer populations is that over the last three years, an average of 30% of Vermont’s licensed trappers have failed to return the mandatory surveys. For example, according to data provided by VFW, for the 2021-22 recreational trapping season 1,431 trapper survey were collected yet 2,139 trapping licenses were issued in 2021. Many of the surveys not returned are from licensed trappers who do not trap, such as those who have bought a lifetime hunting & fishing license and received a free trapping license at no additional cost. Regardless of the value gleaned from collected trapper surveys, as of 2018 it is mandatory for all licensed trappers to complete and return surveys and it is clearly evident that approximately a third of Vermont’s licensed trappers are not in compliance with those existing rules. While some may not be active trappers, it is unknown how many are because reporting is voluntary.

Trapping License Sales 2020-22
Trapper surveys returned 2019-22

When it came to discussing the number of domestic animal captures in traps in Vermont, Royar testified that, “they average during the regulated trapping season about five a year.” By only addressing domestic pets caught in regulated traps, VFW failed to admit that in 2022 alone 13 pets were caught in traps, and the majority were in illegally set traps that the department chose not to include in its testimony to the Senate Committee. By categorizing the supposed benefits of trapping under the umbrella of “regulated trapping” and the negative attributes like species extinction under the “unregulated” category, today’s trappers selectively ignore centuries of overexploitation by fur trappers in New England.

Numbers of domestic pets caught in Vermont traps 2018-22

Royar also testified to the Senate Committee that, “Many of the species that we actually monitor today are more common than they were prior to European settlement.” Perhaps this is the claim where VFW stretches the truth the furthest. Vermont’s first European settlement was at Fort Dummer, near present day Brattleboro in 1724. French, English, Portuguese and Dutch fur trappers and traders had already been on the continent for over a hundred years by then, wiping out entire species like the bison, caribou, wolverine and grizzly bear by the time Vermont was settled. Perhaps Royar is citing coyotes which were not here until the 1900’s only after other species like mountain lions, wolves and lynx ha been eradicated leaving an ecological niche for opportunistic coyotes.

In addition to species extinction, the rapacious exploitation by European fur trappers of animal life in the 17th Century also left the original indigenous habitants of what would become New England fragmented and also nearly extinct. The violence committed by fur trappers in America is unparalleled, and current attempts to rewrite the historic narrative by modern trappers today is the fur industry’s economic strategy for survival and has no basis in the improvement of animal welfare.

Vermont’s wildlife history

Another misleading statement by VFW was in regards to the length of Vermont’s trapping season. Royar testified that, “the 4th Saturday in October to the end of December is the time you have land trapping going on.” This is true for recreational trapping, but not for nuisance trapping which can take place all year long. In the 2021-22 trapping season, according to VFW almost half of all active trappers also reported trapping animals outside of the 3-month period cited by VFW. In addition, of the 13 pets caught in Vermont traps in 2022, six of those captures occurred outside of the legal recreational trapping season.

A land trap set just six feet off a walking trail in West Pawlet, Vermont in January 2023.

Lastly, in their presentation to the Senate Committee on recommended best management practices for trapping Royar stated, “It’s not going to eliminate injury. This is not a perfect system, but the goal is to reduce injury as much as possible and that’s really what we are trying to do.” Yet Vermont Fish & Wildlife is making no recommended changes for the use of body-gripping traps to kill fisher other than that they should be set five feet off the ground to minimize the killing of dogs which occurred twice in 2022.

Royar told the Senate Committee, “Canada did the testing on body-gripping traps and the U.S. did the testing on foothold traps.” An academic search for Canadian body-gripping trap research found only one such study in 1989 that conducted trap experiments on live fishers at the Fur Institute of Canada’s research facility in Alberta. These tests were used to develop computer simulations for future trap research. Those researchers concluded that mechanically improved Conibear 220 body-grip traps (identical to those currently in use in Vermont) “failed to render irreversibly unconscious in 3 min. Fishers single-struck in the head-neck region, or double struck in the neck and thorax regions. Although the Conibear 220 trap is often recommended as an alternative to the steel leghold trap, it is unlikely that it has the potential to humanely kill fisher.”

Evaluation of Mechanically Improved Conibear 220 Traps to Quickly Kill Fisher in Simulated Natural Environments

If you read the published paper Best Management Practices for Trapping Furbearers in the United States (which Ms. Royar cited in her presentation to the Senate Committee) you will find this quote in the methods section from lead author, H. Bryant White, “…killing trap welfare (time‐to‐death) data collected in Canada (Fur Institute of Canada 2017a) were shared with us and traps were included in BMPs if they met our thresholds for welfare and efficiency; data on killing‐trap efficiency were collected as part of BMP research in the United States. Because we are not at liberty to publish the killing‐trap welfare data collected by Canada, we report only our research on performance of live‐restraining traps.”

H. Bryant White with the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) is one of the most authoritative leaders on trapping BMP’s in the world and by selectively ignoring research that acknowledges the cruelty inherent in a currently used trapping system, AFWA reveals a level of fur industry bias that should be unacceptable to Vermonters who respect and appreciate public trust wildlife.

Please contact the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and ask them to dismiss claims by Vermont Fish & Wildlife that the state’s trapping practices can ever be humane. Lend your support to S.111 a ban on recreational trapping in Vermont!

Senator Christopher Bray

Senator Anne Watson

Senator Dick McCormack

Senator Mark A. MacDonald

Senator Becca White

Complaints Filed After Vermont Fish & Wildlife Turns Off Recording During Public Meeting on Trapping & Hound Hunting

Excerpts from the unrecorded Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting on March 15, 2023

Vermont Wolf Patrol alleges the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when during a public meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Board on March 15, 2023 they ceased recording a presentation by hound hunters. Proponents of coyote hunting with hounds were allowed over 30 minutes to present to the board on proposed regulations governing the sport, while opponents were limited to just two minutes each. 

On March 21, 2023 Vermont Wolf Patrol contacted VFW Commissioner Herrick’s office to inquire when the entire second half of the public board meeting would be published on VFW’s YouTube channel. The first recorded half of the meeting was published on March 17th. Abigail Connolly, Assistant to Herrick told Wolf Patrol, “Unfortunately, despite us (VFW) recording the whole meeting, the Microsoft Teams application only saved what we have posted on our website now. I spent some time with IT this afternoon trying to see if the end of the meeting could be retrieved, but we were unsuccessful.”

During the unrecorded meeting, Coronado used his smartphone to record the conversations by VFW staff, board members and hound hunters, including when a board member asks, “are we on air now?” and Connolly is heard saying, “The meeting is still virtual and there are people involved. I’m not recording it anymore. But people can see and hear you.”

The first published 3.5 hours of what became a 5 hour meeting of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board.

Vermont Wolf Patrol also notified Vermont Fish & Wildlife of the alleged Open Meeting Law violation and filed a complaint with both the Attorney General and Secretary of State’s offices. In addition, VFW has failed to make available minutes from the 3/15/23 Fish & Wildlife Board meeting within five calendar days as required by law.

The March 15th Fish & Wildlife Board meeting was the first in a series of meetings to review recommended changes to trapping rules and regulations for hunting coyotes with hounds. The meeting was held at a VTrans facility in Berlin and was attended by a large group of hound hunters and 9 residents opposed to coyote hound hunting and recreational trapping, including Rod Coronado from Vermont Wolf Patrol. Members of the public were given two minutes for public comments at the beginning of the meeting.

Audio obtained by Coronado from the unrecorded 20-plus minute presentation by a member in attendance from the hound hunting community recorded the presenter defending the use of GPS collars as a control method for running hounds in Vermont, stating that they are completely effective at preventing hound trespass. Whether GPS collars constitute control is the most contentious debate about hound hunting practices in Vermont. Defending the use of GPS collars to control dogs out of view and even miles away, the presenter said of GPS tracking systems, “They are not perfect…but pretty close.” 

Excerpts from the unrecorded presentation on coyote hunting with hounds at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting 3/15/23.

In another unrecorded portion of the meeting, the newly appointed board member from Orleans County, Paul Noel acknowledged that he is a trapper and is glad the department is working to defend trapping. On March 6, Noel was appointed to a 6-year term on the Fish & Wildlife Board by Governor Phil Scott. Noel is also a member of the Vermont Trappers Association and has authored recent commentaries in support of trapping. In a January 19, 2023 commentary he wrote, “Regulated trapping and harvest will increasingly be more of the solution rather than the problem in the future by keeping furbearers in harmonic alignment with biological and societal carrying capacities.” He joins the board as it begins the rulemaking process to adopt new trapping rules as directed by the Legislature in Act 159.

It is no secret that every current Governor-appointed member of Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Board is either a hounder, trapper or hunter. In addition many of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff within the furbearer department are vocal proponents of recreational trapping. VFW biologists argue that carcass collection from trappers allows the department to gather important biological information. Board member Noel recently wrote, “Trappers are an ally and play an integral role in furbearer management by providing biological data that could not be obtained otherwise. Mandatory trapper reports are collected each year that show all species harvest numbers and trapper effort.” 

Coyote hunting with hounds in Vermont, shared by Wallingford hounder, Terance Wilbur on Facebook.

Yet, VFW’s own furbearer biologists acknowledge the existence of nonlethal data collection devices such as remote cameras and hair traps. VFW’s furbearer department also relies on annual reporting by recreational trappers which became mandatory in 2018. Yet, records obtained by the public show that on average 30% of the licensed trappers in Vermont fail to report and are out of compliance with the 2018 mandatory trap reporting regulation Noel cites in his pro-trapping commentary.

Vermont’s wildlife belongs to all the people, not only those who hound, trap and hunt. Until there is diverse representation on the Fish & Wildlife Board, the public will continue to see unethical behavior and special interests at work throughout the entire Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Such bias will continue to erode public confidence in VFW and only lead to more legislation to restrict trapping and hound hunting practices that VFW is determined to defend despite the costs to taxpayers and our public trust wildlife.

Vote yes on H.191, H.323, H.485 & S.111


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In Their Own Words: Coyote Hound Hunters Describe A Typical Winter Hunt

Another bloody dog fight shared on the private Facebook page, “Northeast Hunting with Hounds on March 5, 2023.

Had Scott my brother, Pat, and Rick hunting today with Hatchet and Pebbles. Steve hunting with his hounds and a couple friends. Found good tracks crossing into small piece. We dropped Hatchet and he took track all the way to opposite corner about a mile away. The 2 coyotes circled back and crossed out before we got them jumped with hounds. They diagonaled across this woods and made it to huge woods with at least 150 deer wintering in it. Hatchet and Pebbles pounded coyotes on and off for about 3 hours. Had a split hunt going at one time. Thought I was in Africa on the Serengeti with the unbelievable amount of deer that poured out!

The red track is that of a loose hound chasing coyotes in a winter deer yard in upstate New York 03/05/23.

Pat and Scott went in the woods. Pat had a visual on a Grey coyote but no shot. Dogs got back on same yote and put by my brother who got some lead into it. While this was going on sniper Rick had a big yote come out of woods and sit on edge on top of a big pile. He had his 22-250 and threw a shot at the coyote at 270 yards. He saw yote fall but fell behind pile. He walked in and had massive amounts of blood but yote was gone. Good blood trail.

Evidence of another typical and vicious battle between a wounded coyote and pursuing hounds on March 5, 2023.

He followed aways but had no gun with him so came back to his truck. We planned to come back and put hound on later after we take care of bay that Hatchet and Pebbles had going. They bayed yote up 400 yards from where Scott shot it with #4 buck. He tried to sneak into bay to dispatch but coyote took off.

Where a wounded coyote stopped to face the hounds, typically called a “bay.”

Pebbles is a little gun shy so now she didn’t want nothing to do with bay. Scott took her to truck and I drove 7 miles and picked Zues up. Got back and Hatchet was bayed again 550 yards from road . Cut Zues who got to him. Scott was just getting to bay when he saw Zues and yote rolling on ground. He rushed in and yote took off again.

Coyote hounds doing what they are trained to do, track, trail, fight and kill their wild cousins.

Tackled in 89 yards by Zues, this time Hatchet grabbed yote by neck and had pinned down. Both hounds where all over it. He rushed in and put barrel to head and finished it. Don’t need any vet bills. Hounds did get bite juries from the fight. Nothing major. Coyote had mange so Pic only and left it in woods.

Just the latest in many coyotes this New York hound hunter has brutally killed and left in the woods. Notice the two front legs have been shot off.

Back to wounded coyote. Rick and Pat walked Zues to last spot he tracked. They kept on leash and followed. They caught upto yote. Rick had shot both front legs off from knee down. Big coyote. Enjoy the pics!

Vermonters have the opportunity to end coyote hunting with hounds once and for all.

Please contact your elected representatives and let them know you support H.323 An act relating to prohibiting the hunting of bear or coyote with dogs.

Get Your Wolf Patrol T-shirts, Hoodies & Tanks Now & Support Our Fight Against Trapping in Vermont!

For one week only, Vermont Wolf Patrol is collaborating with For the Love of All Things (FLOAT) on a fundraiser t-shirt sale featuring a beautiful woodcut beaver print by local artist, Laurie Books. $8 of every item purchased will go towards the campaign to end trapping in Vermont and support for proposed legislation that would end recreational trapping in Vermont. 

Visit the link above to see all the colors and styles available!

Vermont Wolf Patrol met artist/activist Laurie Brooks while investigating suspected illegal trapping by a trapper employed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to kill the beavers along a hiking trail in southern Vermont that borders Laurie’s farm. VTrans spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to address beaver conflicts, mostly blocked culverts that threaten to flood roads. What has been discovered is a literal “lethal only” campaign by VTrans, whereby instead of installing non-lethal beaver deception devices, the state hires trappers and frequently uses heavy machinery in sensitive wetlands to destroy dams and beaver lodges.

Besides purchasing a t-shirt, Vermonters are encouraged to also join Vermont Wolf Patrol at the next Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting on March 15, 2023 where recommendations on proposed changes to trapping rules will be discussed. In addition, the board will address proposed regulations created for coyote hunting with hounds as well as wolf recolonization in Vermont!

Next Fish & Wildlife Board meeting: Wednesday, March 15, 2023 at the Dill Building, VT Agency of Transportation, Room 135, 2178 Airport Rd, Berlin, VT 05641. The meeting will start at 5:00 PM. Information to join the meeting virtually via Microsoft Teams will be found in the agenda on March 8:

Senate Introduces Companion Bill To End Recreational Trapping in Vermont

This coyote awaits his death in a foothold trap in Maine. February 12, 2023

On February 28, Senator Brian Campion introduced S. 111, a bill that would end recreational trapping and establish a nuisance wildlife trapping license program. The bill proposes to prohibit the trapping of fur-bearing animals unless the person trapping is authorized to trap in order to defend property or agricultural crops or the trapping is conducted by a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator. S.111 is a companion bill with the same language as H.191 that was introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives on February 7, 2023.

In January 2023, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) submitted a report to the Legislature on efforts to improve the welfare of animals caught in traps in Vermont. Act 159 (S.201) directed the department to suggest rule changes such as the establishment of best management practices (BMPs), On March 15, 2023 those recommendations will also be presented to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board at their monthly meeting in Montpelier.

Within the report to the legislature are recommendations for the use of BMP traps that can still take up to 5 minutes to kill their victims. Trapping BMPs require that body-gripping traps be put to the test to establish how long they take to kill fishers, otters, beavers, mink and muskrats. While some trap research is conducted on active traplines in Vermont, VFW says other research is conducted at a research facility in Alberta, Canada funded by the international fur industry.

Another directive of Act 159, was for VFW to develop a budget for funding the replacement of the privately owned traps of Vermont’s 400 active trappers with those that are BMP approved. The proposed cost to taxpayers would be between $300,000 to $400,000.

From VFW’s January 2023 Legislative report on recommended improvements to trapping.

Vermont Wolf Patrol supports S.111/H.191 but is also asking legislators to end the use of cruel body-gripping traps and foothold traps used as “drowning sets” by licensed nuisance trappers. Vermont’s Agency of Transportation employs trappers with $200,000 contracts to take out beavers and otters they believe are damaging the state’s roads, bridges and highways. While some complaints are legitimate, non-lethal measures are still available should body-gripping traps and drowning sets be banned.

Most VTrans nuisance trapping occurs immediately off of roads and highways, often near culverts that are blocked by beavers. In January 2023, Vermont Wolf Patrol documented VTrans beaver trapping in southern Vermont with body-gripping traps and drowning sets five feet from designated walking paths where many walk their dogs. S.111 would only allow nuisance trappers like VTrans to kill beavers and other animals if there is an imminent threat of damage or destruction to roads, bridges and highways.

Both bills are now in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and the House Committee on Environment and Energy. Email addresses for committee members can be found here:

Please contact your elected representatives and add your support to S.111/H.191 with our suggested revisions to improve animal welfare standards for nuisance trapping!

S.111 As Introduced:

Please join Vermont Wolf Patrol in person or online at the next Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting where trapping, coyote hunting with hounds and wolf recolonization in Vermont will be discussed. The next meeting is Wednesday, March 15, 2023 at the Dewey Conference Room 1 National life Drive, Montpelier, VT 05620 The meeting will start at 5:00 PM. A link to join the meeting virtually via Microsoft Teams can be found on the Fish & Wildlife Board’s webpage on March 8, 2023.

An Inside Look at Coyote Hunting with Hounds

On February 21, 2023 in upstate New York, this coyote was chased for miles, dragged out of the river by its head by hounds then killed and dumped.

From a February 22, 2023 Facebook post on the page: Northeast Hunting with Hounds

Hunted yesterday with brother Scott and Steve. Steve got there a little late. Conditions were horrible. Zues and Clyde were the hounds we ran. They jumped coyote fairly quickly and pounded in circles on a 450 acre piece that is surrounded by river on 1 side and tributary other. Big peninsula. Hounds did great for the first 3 hours. Scott shot at it 2 different times. Didn’t kill it or slow it down. The conditions got worse as it started raining and temp warming up. Had a huge miss. I was able to rejump coyote but Zues couldn’t keep it going. We pulled pin but hounds get an A for conditions and brother should have finished it off. He gets a D-.

The view screen monitoring the trail of GPS-collared coyote hounds. Often hounds will kill the pursued coyote before the hound hunter can reach the location.

Today Steve was out and dropped 2 hounds early. I got there they were pounding. Steve said circling 250 yards in. I couldn’t track because of collars he was using. I found track where went by on a circle and waited . I stopped waited as hounds pounded toward me. Coyote circled in front at 90 yards. Wind in my face. Never made me. Headed out and away, so I moved up. Circled back at me and again crossed in front at 80 yards. Could have taken shot but yote didn’t know I was there and I knew I could get closer. I snuck up on this track and they were headed back at me again. Nice running yote except his circles were always 80 to 90 yards different.

Make no mistake, coyote hunting with hounds is legalized dog-fighting.

Hounds took yote a mile and half to some thick cedars and circled 3 or 4 times by Steve. He never got a shot. Yote then headed back toward me. I had moved up on a stream. It had running water and shelf ice. I fell through ice last year in this spot, waste deep and I had 976 yards of to walk after I dumped the water out of my boots. I was a frozen popsicle when I made it to truck. Clothes froze stiff from waist down.

On January 27, 2023 the New York hound hunter telling these stories, shared this picture of a coyote whose head was torn off by hounds. From the private Facebook page: Northeast Hunting with Hounds.

Well anyway, coyote crossed 200 yards below me. I moved to spot yotes crossed last time I was in this woods a couple weeks ago. Hounds circled in cedars a Mile away. Circled a couple more times then hounds run it by me at 196 yards in side of woods across stream from me. I really thought this would be it! Coyote went by and did huge loop and turned coming back opposite way right at me. Hounds were pounding getting close. Most of day coyote was only 30 seconds ahead of hounds. Brother had cut Pebbles earlier so now I could track hounds (last couple loops) Coyote came directly in front across creek from me at approx 60 yards and stopped. He was looking back. He made a step to parallel stream.

Like other fighting dogs, coyote hounds are taught and praised for their bloodlust.

I had bead on him and squeezed off 2 shots of #4 3inch buck shot. First shot saw the huge flinch. Coyote headed away flying. I radioed Scott and Steve that I had definite hit but not sure how far it would go. Made it 200 yards and bayed up. Had Scott come in from other side of creek with 22.

By time he got there he saw the hounds pull coyote out of stream by its head. They were now on my bank and I was only about a minute behind Scotts visual. When I got there coyote was dead and hounds chewing on it.

Yote was a nice Grey colored but had mange so had to leave in woods. Leashed up 2 hounds and headed for truck 700 yards away! All 3 hounds did great! Some of the best hound music of the year!!

Support H.323 Let’s End Coyote Hunting with Hounds in Vermont Once and For All!

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