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Bill proposing big changes to the Fish and Wildlife Board moves forward

A beaver holds a willow branch in its claws as it sits in water, among some reeds.
Lawmakers are weighing a bill that proposes strict setbacks for traps from all trails in the state.

A bill that proposes big changes to how Vermont makes decisions about managing wildlife took a key step forward Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy voted to advance the bill — S.258 — Tuesday.

The legislation requires the state Fish and Wildlife Board be split evenly between people who hunt, fish or trap and those who don't.

Historically, board members have been people who hunt, trap or fish. The bill requires all members have a "history of involvement with and dedication to fish and wildlife, including wildlife biology, ecology and the ethics of fish and wildlife management."

Additionally, members would be appointed by the legislature and commissioner of the state fish and wildlife department, rather than by the governor, as they are now.

The bill also takes away the board's authority to write regulations. Instead, the legislation calls for the board to advise the department.

More from Vermont Public: Bill proposing changes to hunting and trapping rules spurs passionate testimony

Right now, the Fish and Wildlife Board has relatively narrow jurisdiction — over hunting and trapping regulations in the state. But this bill would change that. Under the proposal, the new board would advise the department any time it makes a rule pertaining to wildlife.

Bob Galvin is with Animal Wellness Action, a nonprofit that lobbied in support of the bill.

Galvin said his organization supports the ban on hunting coyotes with dogs, but is most excited about how the bill proposes to change the makeup of the Fish and Wildlife Board.

"It really brings additional Vermonters to the table who historically have not been involved in the wildlife rulemaking process," Galvin said.

Galvin and other wildlife advocates in the state have questioned whether the board's regulations are always grounded in the latest peer-reviewed science.

But not everyone in the Statehouse shares that concern.

Sen. Russ Ingalls, a Republican from Essex County, said the bill is unpopular with his constituents.

He said from his perspective, the board has been successful at making decisions about how Vermont's wildlife is managed.

He does not support a ban on hunting coyotes with hounds in the state and he said, in his view, the board should be made up of people who hunt, fish and trap.

"You know, here's really where it's at. If I don't like something, I don't do it," Ingalls said. "What we have in this building is that if somebody else doesn't like something, they don't want anybody to do it."

More from Vermont Public: Lawmakers are at odds with Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board over trapping, coyote hunting

Committee Chair Sen. Chris Bray said he hopes the bill brings more Vermonters into decisions about wildlife.

"I look forward to optimistically creating a new board, I hope that brings everyone to the table, where they'll find out that they share many more values than divide them," Bray said.

Since the bill proposes to end a practice for which there is a regulated season that generates state revenue through licenses, lawmakers are waiting to see whether the bill will need to be reviewed by committees that deal with spending and revenues before it can be debated on the Senate floor.

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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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