Vermont has new trapping & coyote hunting rules. But some lawmakers want to change how they're made
A set of new regulations that tighten the rules for recreational trapping as well as hunting coyotes with dogs in Vermont went into effect on Jan. 1. The changes are drawing ire from both wildlife advocates and some lawmakers.
Two laws passed in recent years required the update.
In 2022, the Legislature passed Act 165, which created a temporary ban on hunting coyotes with dogs in Vermont until the state Fish and Wildlife Board could issue regulations that reduce friction between coyote hounds, landowners and domestic animals.
Then in 2022, lawmakers passed Act 159. It required the board to update regulations to make trapping in Vermont more humane by changing which types of traps are allowed and where those traps can be set. The law also called for restrictions on how trapped animals can be killed.
In mid-December of 2023, the state Fish and Wildlife Board voted to adopt new regulations. But in a lettersent to the Secretary of State’s office last month, members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR), which judges whether new regulations meet legislative intent, said the board’s updates didn’t do what they had in mind.
Rep. Trevor Squirrell, a Democrat from Underhill who chairs LCAR, said he was particularly concerned about the new rules, and how they allow hunters to control their dogs with GPS tracking and shock collars.
“We felt that the use of these collars, although they can provide some additional information and possibly influence the hounds, did not reach that level of control,” Squirrell said.
Lawmakers also objected to the setback exemptions for traps set in water and under ice, and they say the new rules define trails too narrowly.
"We need to keep politics out of rulemaking."Sen. Russ Ingalls, Essex County Republican
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Herrick said he believes the new rules will improve animal welfare and reduce conflict between coyote hounds and members of the public, as lawmakers asked for. He said he’s confident the department will be able to show that if the rules are challenged in court.
“If there is a lawsuit around those areas, then the burden of proof falls on the department to show we met the intent of the legislation,” Herrick said.
Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Board is a 14-person commission of volunteers appointed by the governor. The board is relatively unique in that it has rulemaking authority.
And some in the Vermont Legislature would like to see that change.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth, a Democrat from Chittenden County, called the disagreement between LCAR and the Fish and Wildlife Board "unusual." He said he strongly supports forthcoming legislation to take away the rulemaking powers of the Fish and Wildlife Board.
"And obviously, that's a serious concern for us, because we depend on the [Gov. Phil Scott] administration to implement the things we pass in a democratic society," Baruth said. "Beyond that, I think it's time to change the makeup of the board itself, which has traditionally been designed to preserve and protect hunting and trapping."
Sen. Russ Ingalls, a Republican who represents Essex County, called this effort politically motivated and said he would not support changes to the board's governance.
"We need to keep politics out of rulemaking," he said, saying that from his perspective the existing system has been working.
"I think it's time to change the makeup of the [state Fish and Wildlife] board itself, which has traditionally been designed to preserve and protect hunting and trapping."Senate Pro Tem Phil Baruth, Democrat from Chittenden County
Brenna Galdenzi leads the nonprofit wildlife advocacy group Protect Our Wildlife. She would like to see the board be made an advisory body, and she would like to see a more diverse array of perspectives represented.
“I think it’s more important that the board is split between consumptive users and non-consumptive users,” Galdenzi said, referring to Vermonters who don’t hold hunting and fishing licenses.
She said the board should advise Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, but the department should write and approve policy.
Galdenzi called the process that led to the regulations “a complete waste of time.” She said her organization has stopped engaging with the body because they don’t feel it’s effective. She also said Protect Our Wildlife would support a legal challenge against the new regulations.
Bruce Martin, vice president of the Vermont Trappers Association, said he personally supports the requirement for a 50-foot setback from trails for foothold traps, and thinks a lot of trappers aren’t trapping within that area.
He also said his organization proposed the updates to traps that were codified in the new rule, and supports that change.
“We’ve been pushing that quite a bit, and trying to educate the rest of our members that these are the traps that have been tested, these have been shown to be the best features to use,” Martin said.
“Had they really worked with us during the working group sessions, it would have made our work in the future to ban hounding, ban recreational trapping that much harder. But because they were just so unwilling to reach across the aisle and truly work with wildlife advocates, they’ve made our work much easier for us in the long run.”Brenna Galdenzi, Protect Our Wildlife
But groups like Protect Our Wildlife say these traps are not humane, and point out that the new regulations were designed at least in part by proponents of trapping.
Galdenzi says this has galvanized wildlife and animal welfare advocates in the state to continue to push for stricter regulations in the Legislature.
“They’ve been just so unwilling to put forth any meaningful changes,” Galdenzi said. “Had they really worked with us during the working group sessions, it would have made our work in the future to ban hounding, ban recreational trapping that much harder. But because they were just so unwilling to reach across the aisle and truly work with wildlife advocates, they’ve made our work much easier for us in the long run.”
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Herrick pushed back on that allegation, saying it was “disingenuous” for wildlife advocates to say the board didn’t accept any of their recommendations.
“I think if you ask anybody on the working group, they would say that not all of their ideas were accepted either,” he said. “We’re never going to get people to agree on everything.”
Herrick says in his view, more restrictions on hunting coyotes with dogs in particular would amount to a de facto ban. Similarly, he said that some of what wildlife advocates called for was too restrictive.
Jane Fitzwilliam of the Vermont Coyote Coexistence Coalition, which is a nonprofit that advocates for restricting Vermont’s open season on coyotes, echoed Galdenzi’s concerns, saying her group supports H.323, a bill that would ban hunting coyotes and bears with hounds, as well as bills that would ban trapping.
When asked if her group plans to sue the department over the rule, Fitzwilliam said, “It’s a possibility.”
“They started [the working group process] off saying that everybody there cared about wildlife, which is a very accurate statement. But I just think there are a lot of different opinions that made it harder to agree on a way to move forward.”Bruce Martin, Vermont Trappers Association
Martin, with the Vermont Trappers Association, is the fourth generation in his family to trap in Vermont. He was part of the working group that helped develop the new regulations.
He said the care for wildlife he saw during that process from both trappers and wildlife advocates is what makes it so hard to move forward and find consensus on these issues.
“They started [the working group process] off saying that everybody there cared about wildlife, which is a very accurate statement,” Martin said. “But I just think there are a lot of different opinions that made it harder to agree on a way to move forward.”
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message, or contact reporter Abagael Giles: