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.
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.