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.

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