By Gaen Murphree
Motivated by constituent outrage over unregulated coyote hunting, some Legislators are asking state wildlife officials to rethink Vermont’s open season on the canine predator.
“Coyotes are important animals, not vermin to be attacked,” said Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston. “They’re important ‘people’ that need, if you will, the honor of having controls on their hunting or their ‘taking.’ And right now they don’t have that honor.”
McCullough is vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, which has asked the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to, in McCullough’s words, do “some soulsearching” and come back to the committee for more discussion in a year or less.
The committee was working on a bill to regulate coyote hunting, H.60, but has switched tactics. Rather than proceed with H.60, last week the committee sent Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter a letter asking the department to reconsider its policies and reconvene with the committee by Jan. 15, 2018. McCullough said the change in tactics was designed to move the conversation ahead and hopefully get results more quickly.
Porter and Chris Bernier, the department’s Furbearer Project leader, appeared before the committee on Feb. 17, said McCullough, and asked for a longer timeline to report back on the committee’s questions than H. 60 would have provided.
“The commissioner wanted a couple of years to respond even though he and his biologist had answered at least half of the questions,” said McCullough. “That put a very long delay in the process and then would only give us some answers without creating any resolutions. So the letter was to actually speed the process up a bit and asked for some additional questions that actually sought to invoke some soulsearching … on the part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
According to current regulations, coyotes can be hunted day or night, 365 days a year, with no bag limit. Only four Vermont mammals — coyotes, skunks, weasels and opossums — have no closed season and no bag limit. Constituents have objected to coyote hunting practices whereby a large number of animals are killed in a short time (contests and the like). Concerns over coyote-hunting contests have been raised by hunters and nonhunters alike, McCullough said.
Coyotes can be trapped for pelts in Vermont; trapping season is limited to October through December.
According to wildlife biologists, coyotes respond to decreases in their numbers by increasing their rate of reproduction and are, in this respect, remarkably resilient. As a result, state officials have maintained that Vermont’s policy is indeed based on coyote science: there is no season for or bag limits because coyotes regenerate in response to hunting.
The committee’s letter to Porter outlines nine topics it wants the department to consider before it reconvenes with the committee sometime in the next 10 months (See box).
McCullough said the core principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (as put forth by the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports) were important to the committee’s thinking on the question of how to regulate coyote hunting, especially the core principle of legitimate use “defined as killing for food or fur, self-defense, and property protection.”
Other coyote-relevant principles from the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation include that:
Wildlife is held in public trust for all citizens.
Wildlife policy is regulated by law, so that all can participate.
All citizens have fair access to hunting and fishing.
Wildlife policy should be based in science.
McCullough said that overall the committee “would like to see some controls that involve a real hunting season.” He said he felt there was a “significant disconnect” between the department’s perception of its current policy and the kinds of coyote-killing practices that many Vermonters see as “barbarous.” He also emphasized the importance of a calm, rational dialogue, so that the issue could be examined without pouring “gas on the fire.”
“I think we’re hoping that the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the face of a changing world — in the face of declining hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, in the face of increased pressure from the rest of the Vermont constituency for more voices in the process — that in the face of those things they’re going to actually decide that it is important to manage coyotes with requirements for a hunting season rather than manage by not managing and get off of their soapbox about ‘We can’t hurt them so why wouldn’t we let it [current practices] continue,’” McCullough said.
“So the hope is they’ll look at our concerns and go, ‘Why wouldn’t we have a hunting season for these animals?’”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]