The US Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) manages an unparalleled network of public lands called the National Wildlife Refuge System. These refuges play a critical role in providing protected habitat for millions of species including many who are threatened or endangered. Vermont only has two refuges: Silvio O. Conte and Missisquoi. Both hunters and non-hunting wildlife enthusiasts enjoy these lands with very few restrictions. There is growing concern that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFWD) fails to represent these stakeholder groups fairly, showing tremendous bias toward hunting interests.
Last summer, the Conte Refuge (Refuge) solicited public comment on its 2021 Hunting Plan (Plan). Wildlife advocates, hunters, VFWD, and other stakeholder groups participated. There was heightened concern among wildlife advocates over the long hound training season that impacts at-risk ground nesting birds, including the Canada Warbler and the American Woodcock.
In September, the Refuge amended their Hunting Plan and shortened the hound training—not hunting—season by two months (from June 1 to August 1) to address concerns over the impact on ground nesting birds—a move considered a small concession by wildlife advocates who wanted a complete ban on hounding on the refuge, among other prohibitions.
VFWD Commissioner, Christopher Herrick, vehemently disagrees with the new restrictions. Mark Scott, Director of Wildlife at VFWD, not only disagrees with the Refuge’s decision but chose to harshly criticize the Refuge manager personally and professionally in communications to hounders and colleagues.
Newly released VFWD emails obtained through a public records request from Protect Our Wildlife reveal disparaging remarks made by VFWD’s Director of Wildlife about the Conte Refuge manager in reaction to the minor changes made to the hunting plan. VFWD Director of Wildlife wrote, “My guess is he wants a promotion and is willing to sell his professional integrity. SAD.” The Director also said that the Refuge manager was dishonest and unprofessional, and that he lost all respect for the manager. Protect Our Wildlife is awaiting additional public records that have yet to be released by Governor Scott’s office.
Additionally, the Director of Wildlife also shared emails with Senator Leahy’s office from a hounder calling for diversion of federal funds that were earmarked for the Conte Refuge and reallocating it to VFWD. Wildlife advocates view this as a retaliatory attack in response to the Refuge’s minor restrictions on hounding.
“This unwarranted attack by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department on the Refuge biologist over minimal restrictions to hounding is a real threat to conservation and collaboration and also illustrates how deeply political wildlife management is,” added Jablow.
Protect Our Wildlife has had previous concerns over hounding activities on the Refuge as documented in their 2015 petition here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1b5ApiXO6yz1mPu6_6P5PzH21IjhVfeQy/view. VFWD has historically prioritized politics over the protection of at-risk species on the Refuge as evidenced here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1b5ApiXO6yz1mPu6_6P5PzH21IjhVfeQy/view.
In response to the VFWD Commissioner, Christopher Herrick’s recent public pleas for respecting others’ opinions and turning down the vitriol, POW President, Brenna Galdenzi, said, “Commissioner Herrick, you ask that we all respect differences of opinion, but the evidence indicates that your senior team doesn’t follow that plea.”