Lisa Jablow: Transparency lacking in Fish & Wildlife appointments

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In recent years, as Vermont residents have become more aware of wildlife issues, there has been a growing realization that the management of wildlife has essentially been by, and for the benefit of, those who engage in "consumptive" wildlife activities, i.e., hunting and trapping. On August 8, 2018 various stakeholders including Protect Our Wildlife, other wildlife protection organizations, attorneys, a veterinarian, a wildlife biologist, and others met with Governor Scott to discuss concerns over the lack of democracy and inclusion in Vermont's wildlife governance model. They discussed the Fish & Wildlife Board and their power to make public policy decisions — regulations — on a public "resource" (wildlife) without broad public representation. Based on the most recent Fish & Wildlife Board appointments, it appears that the Governor's office continues to support an outdated, undemocratic model that silences the majority

of Vermonters.

The recent appointment of Board members to fill several vacancies highlights the lack of transparency within the current administration. In an effort to better understand who is applying for these Fish & Wildlife Board positions, a public records request was submitted to Governor Scott's office in March for information about all of the applicants for the Board vacancies. A review of the records revealed that the application of a fellow Board member from Protect Our Wildlife, who is also an experienced licensed wildlife rehabilitator, was not among the requested documents. When the Governor's office was asked to explain why the application had been withheld, the missing application was sent accompanied by three additional applications that had not been provided in the original response. These applications were from extremely qualified individuals, but who are non-hunters/trappers; it is difficult not to conclude that those applications had simply been removed from consideration.

The rejected applicants for the Washington County Board seat included individuals with backgrounds in zoology and wildlife rehabilitation and advanced degrees in mammal ecology and natural resources. In the end, the man who was appointed by the Governor to the Washington seat never even formally applied. There is no record of an application, resume, email of inquiry - nothing - and thus no record of his qualifications to serve. How is it that someone who has no record of applying was appointed, while three qualified candidates who submitted applications, as well as resumes and other professional documentation, didn't even get a "Thank you for applying?"

Not surprisingly, this new Board member recently made the motion that ultimately shot down a petition put forth by Vermont Law School students seeking a regulated coyote hunting season — a proposed compromise with hunters that would still allow coyote hunting, but would stop the open season that results in coyote pups being orphaned each year.

The Governor's response to the public records request also highlights the "us vs. them" mentality that appears to be ingrained in this Administration. An email from the Director of Legislative Affairs advises a candidate, whose name is redacted from the email, of the following: Anyone considering this Board needs to be aware of the dynamic with the anti-trapping lobby that they will be subjected to.

The Fish & Wildlife Board, supported by Governor Scott, is simply not operating in good faith. VT Title 10, 4081, states that wildlife is a public resource to be managed for the benefit of the public. But that mandate cannot be fulfilled until a cross-section of the public has a literal seat at the table. Instead, they continue to prop up the by now very tired trope that the agenda of anyone calling for any representation of a differing point of view or the regulation of blatantly rapacious behavior is to end all hunting.

The voice of the public is speaking loudly and clearly, as evidenced at the recent Fish & Wildlife Board meeting on coyotes. It is time for the governor, the commissioner, and the board to listen.

Lisa Jablow, of Brattleboro, is a board member of Protect Our Wildlife. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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