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Wildlife advocates sue Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife over trapping, coyote hunting rules

A coyote walks in snowy wooded area.
A coalition of advocacy groups is suing over Vermont's new trapping and coyote hunting rules.

A coalition of four wildlife advocacy groups — Protect Our Wildlife, Vermont Wildlife Coalition, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy — are suing Vermont's Department of Fish and Wildlife over new rules for trapping and for hunting coyotes with dogs.

In the lawsuit, filed in Washington County Superior Court, the advocates allege the new rules do not do what lawmakers asked for when they called for an update.

Among other concerns about trapping regulations, advocates say the department acted unlawfully by lifting a moratorium on hunting coyotes with hounds in Vermont on Jan. 1.

Brenna Galdenzi leads Protect Our Wildlife, one of the groups that sued.

"The moratorium on coyote hunting must remain in effect until Fish and Wildlife is able to provide a method of control of dogs that will in fact protect the public, our property, our domestic animals," Galdenzi says.

Last year, lawmakers called for a temporary ban until new regulations could be written.

But in the fall, the Legislative Committee that reviews new regulations told the Secretary of State the new regulations did not go far enough.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont has new trapping & coyote hunting rules. But some lawmakers want to change how they're made

Lawmakers and advocates complained the rule does not require hunters to have adequate control of their hounds. And they say the restrictions on trapping are lukewarm compared with what was called for in statute. Additionally, they took issue with the board redefining trapping as a form of hunting.

"We believe that they're doing that to codify trapping as a form of hunting in order to provide trapping with greater constitutional protections," Galdenzi said.

At the time, the department's general counsel told lawmakers the move was about clarifying regulatory language.

In addition to echoing the concerns LCAR raised over the regulations, the wildlife advocates' suit argues that a 50-foot buffer for body gripping traps around some trails is not sufficient to protect domestic dogs.

The groups are also reiterating their call for those traps to be banned, and say Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife hasn't provided sufficient evidence that the new regulations improve animal welfare.

"A principal intent of Act 159 [which called for reforms to trapping regulations] was to protect the public and pets from traps near trails," said Rob Mullen, chair of the Vermont Wildlife Coalition. "The Department and Board made no serious effort to fulfill that goal of the law, so the public and pets, especially dogs, are still at risk."

Lawmakers on Vermont's Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee introduced a bill last week that would take away the rulemaking authority of the Fish and Wildlife Board and ban indefinitely the hunting of coyotes with dogs. The bill would also ban the use of bait to hunt coyotes.

Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to comment on the lawsuit, and directed inquiries to the Attorney General's Office, which is defending the department.

In a statement, Attorney General Charity Clark said her office received the advocates' lawsuit on Thursday, Jan. 18.

"We are still reviewing the complaint and will respond to the lawsuit and the court as appropriate," Clark said in a statement.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or contact reporter Abagael Giles:


Corrected: January 22, 2024 at 12:48 PM EST
A previous version of this story said three wildlife advocacy groups were suing Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department, but it is four groups.
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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