Jablow: Vermont needs a wanton waste law
Do you think a hunter should be able to kill a wild animal solely for the "sport" and leave his/her body to rot where the animal was killed? If not, then you're in the majority. Tragically, Vermont has no laws that prevent wanton waste and it happens every year.
In the last couple of years the issue of "wanton waste" has gained traction in the public consciousness, as wildlife advocates have called attention to the reckless, wasteful killing of wildlife, that is currently completely legal. As a term, "wanton waste" is fairly clear, although "wanton" is not exactly a staple of everyday conversation. The top three definitions of wanton in Merriam-Webster are: merciless/inhumane; malicious; extravagant, making it a perfect modifier for the waste of life that masquerades as a legitimate sport.
Applied to wildlife, wanton waste means the killing of animals for no purpose other than that — killing. At this point there is little or no market for fur (thankfully, many consumers and clothiers are stepping away from real fur), and often the carcasses are simply left to rot. Trappers readily admit that they trap to "match wits with critters," or to simply carry on a dying tradition. It is disheartening to realize that there are no bag limits on bobcats, river otters, beavers, and other "furbearing" animals who are killed each year during the trapping and hunting seasons. People may also be surprised to learn that there's a crow hunting season where "hunters" use these highly intelligent animals for target practice with no intent to utilize them in any way.
A crow shooting contest that was scheduled last year was later canceled in the face of overwhelming public outrage.
But the animal most often the victim of wanton waste is the coyote. With minimal effort, one can find social media posts of dead coyotes stacked like cordwood, with the proud and victorious "hunter" posing beside them. One of the more egregious public displays of wanton waste was witnessed last summer by a Bloomfield man who erected a utility pole at the edge of his property on which he strung up the lifeless bodies of coyote pups to display to his neighbors and passersby.
Without laws banning wanton waste, these types of hateful, wasteful actions will continue. Just last week a woman found a coyote that had been shot in Williston and dumped on her road like garbage.
In 2017, the UVM Center for Rural Studies included this question in their Vermonter Poll: "Should Vermont wildlife policies prohibit the "wanton waste" of wildlife, except when these animals are causing damage to property or agricultural products?" The result of the survey indicates that 70.5 percent of Vermonters who responded opposed the intentional and wasteful destruction of Vermont's wildlife.
With all of the current stressors on the natural environment, Vermont Fish & Wildlife should be taking a precautionary approach to wildlife "management," not endorsing the limitless killing of animals for sport.
Foxes, coyotes, beavers and other wildlife are vital contributors to healthy landscapes. There are new threats to wildlife, like the gammaherpesvirus 1 that affects Vermont's bobcats, but Fish & Wildlife leadership seems unconcerned.
There are vastly more people, both residents and the tourists we so badly need for our economy, who want to view wildlife that is alive and thriving than those who want to kill animals just because they can.
Sadly, there will always be people who enjoy thrill killing.
Common sense legislation like bill H.357, a ban on wanton waste, would address what both non-hunters and hunters should agree is wasteful killing and would not penalize those who kill wildlife and use the meat or fur.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner is statutorily required under title 10 V.S.A. 4081 to, in part: "safeguard the fish, wildlife, and fur-bearing animals of the State for the people of the State, and the State shall fulfill this duty with a constant and continual vigilance."
Allowing the mass slaughter of wildlife is a blatant abrogation of that mandate.
If Vermont Fish and Wildlife leadership, starting with the Commissioner, won't embrace their responsibility to protect wildlife for everyone in Vermont, then that tells us that changes to the broader wildlife governance model are required. We cannot continue to allow politics, money, and special interests to dictate wildlife management.
Lisa Jablow lives in Brattleboro.
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