House votes to relinquish control of state’s deer herd

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(Host) The Vermont House has approved legislation that transfers control of the state’s deer herd from the Legislature to the Fish and Wildlife Board. The bill also expands the size of the board so that all counties in the state have representation on the panel.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the past 25 years, fights over Vermont’s deer herd have evoked some of the most emotional debates in the Legislature. Those debates have focused on who should ultimately make the key decisions affecting the deer herd – politicians or professional wildlife management officials.

Currently, lawmakers have the authority to make those decisions but this would change under the legislation that won preliminary approval in the House by a vote of 132 to 5.

Hartland Representative Steve Adams, who’s a member of the Fish and Wildlife Committee, says the message from a public hearing held earlier this year was very clear concerning the future of the deer herd:

(Adams) “We heard from over 200 sportsmen and the number one thing that we heard from them is that they wanted better habitat. Second thing that we heard from them is that they wanted change. They don’t know what that change was but they wanted change. So we’ve brought before you a bill that sort of offers some change.”

(Kinzel) Adams says the bill expands the Fish and Wildlife Board from seven to 14 members. The governor would make one appointment from every county in the state. Adams says turning the control of the deer herd over to the board makes a lot of sense:

(Adams) “There are three key players in deer management in this state. One is the Fish and Wildlife Department, the second is the Fish and Wildlife Board and the third is this body – the Legislature. And out of those three key players the one who holds the most string and the most power is the one least qualified to manage deer – and that’s us here in the Legislature.”

(Kinzel) Castleton Representative Bob Helm opposed the bill because he feels lawmakers are more responsive to the needs of hunters in their districts:

(Helm) “I can’t remember the Department of Fish and Wildlife coming into us and saying, Look we need to do something different with deer management and here’s what we think it should be, would you please help us out? I can’t remember that ever happening. Anything that ever happened here happened because we were driven by constituency. As a rule, that’s what we’re here for.”

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday. It must then be considered by the Senate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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