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Lawmakers are at odds with Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board over trapping, coyote hunting

A coyote walks in a snowy forest.
Vermont has never regulated coyote hunting, but in 2022, lawmakers placed a moratorium on hunting coyotes with dogs until the Department of Fish and Wildlife issued new rules.

Members of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to adopt new regulations on hunting coyotes with dogs and trapping.

That’s despite state lawmakers saying the new regulations do not do what the Legislature asked for.

In 2022, the Legislature passed two laws calling for changes to how Vermont regulates hunting coyotes and trapping — Act 165 and Act 159.

Hunting coyotes with dogs

Until now, Vermont has never regulated coyote hunting, let alone hunting coyotes with dogs. The state has an open season on the animals, which wildlife advocates have long called for an end to.

Act 165 created a moratorium on hunting coyotes with dogs until the Department of Fish and Wildlife issued new rules. Those rules would aim to reduce the risk that dogs hunting coyotes would go onto land where they’re not welcome, or bother people, domestic animals or property.

The new regulations adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Board this week require hunters to register their dogs with the state and outfit them with a GPS tracking collar. Hunters will also be required to maintain a log of where their dogs have been. Additionally, it creates a permitting system, where the state will issue 100 permits a year. At least 90% of those permits will be reserved for residents of Vermont.

Additionally, the regulations require that hunters have the ability to call their dogs back using a training collar.

But in an objection filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rulemaking, or LCAR, said this was insufficient and didn’t meet state lawmakers’ intent.

In an October memo to the Fish and Wildlife Board, LCAR members wrote: “We are of the opinion that this level of control cannot be accomplished through the use of a training/control collar.”

The lawmakers suggested hunters should be required to keep their dogs within sight or under voice control.

In its response to lawmakers, the Fish and Wildlife Board said coyote hunting happens in fields and forests where people can’t follow with a truck or horse, and that “requiring a hunter to maintain sight or voice distance from the dogs would eliminate any possibility of a successful hunt.”

At Thursday’s Fish and Wildlife Board meeting, Putney resident Jane Fitzwilliam, with the Vermont Coyote Coexistence Coalition, told the board they were putting the state’s department at legal risk. Fitzwilliam accused the Fish and Wildlife Department of failing to work with lawmakers, wildlife advocates and other members of the public who support stricter limitations on trapping and on hunting coyotes with dogs.

“For example, if someone’s dog gets mauled by coyote hounds, or dies in a kill trap set in the water, the department is left very vulnerable because the burden of proof has shifted onto them,” Fitzwilliam said. “The public is in a very good position to sue Fish and Wildlife over this.”

The board’s general counsel confirmed this.

Trapping regulations

The new regulations approved by the Fish and Wildlife Board require that traps be set back from trails on public land — but lawmakers wanted the setbacks to apply to all trails in the state.

The rule bans foothold and body-gripping traps within 50 feet of a public trail, or Class 3 or 4 roads, and within 100 feet of most public recreational areas, like parks and campgrounds, as well as schools and buildings.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont wildlife agency says proposed rules will 'modernize trapping'

The regulations put forward by the department exclude traps set in the water and under ice. Lawmakers objected to this exemption, and said the setbacks should apply to all public highways, too.

Additionally, under the department’s rule, setbacks would not apply to trails in Wildlife Management Areas.

The LCAR wrote to the Secretary of State Thursday, saying lawmakers feel that the rules filed by the Fish and Wildlife Board are not sufficient to lift the moratorium on hunting coyotes with dogs.

When asked their view on this, a spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Department said the board and department are evaluating this position.

The new regulations go into effect January 1, 2024.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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