March 6, 2017
Vermont Wildlife Coalition
Derby, VT — Vermont residents from around the state have announced creation of a new organization called the Vermont Wildlife Coalition (VWC). The VWC will use education and political action to engage a broad citizenry, including many who have been previously under-represented, in the shaping of wildlife policy. The VWC is committed to promoting a 21st Century conservation ethic, grounded in science, which supports the health and protection of wildlife. The Coalition also seeks to ensure that the public at large has a real voice in decision-making about Vermont’s wildlife.
There’s no question that Vermonters value the state’s wildlife. Vermont ranked first in the nation in 2001 in percentage of residents who actively observed wildlife. It’s also the case that as more Vermonters get caught in the trends of urbanization and digitalization, giving attention to wildlife becomes more challenging. This is especially true for our children who are increasingly distanced from nature because of cultural influences. The Association of Fish & Wildlife Departments (including all 50 states) issued a 2016 report about the impending conservation funding crisis and its implications for the nation’s wildlife. In response, their Blue Ribbon Panel proposed to “examine the impact of societal changes on the relevancy of fish and wildlife conservation and make recommendations on how programs and agencies can transform to engage and serve broader constituencies.” Part of the work of VWC will be focusing on the connections between social change, wildlife conservation and public engagement.
The VWC’s approach includes promoting public participation by multiple and diverse stakeholders in the state’s wildlife governance, and supporting governance that truly generates sustainable benefits for all beneficiaries. One of the Coalition’s first priorities will be building support for House Bill H.336, an act related to adding six seats to the “Fish and Game Board” (H.336’s new name for the Fish and Wildlife Board) for representatives of the public, and to establishing a Wildlife Management Advisory Board that will review new wildlife rules, regulations and policies and advise the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife and the General Assembly on matters relating to the protection of wildlife.
To improve and modernize governance, the VWC will encourage the VT Fish & Wildlife Department to, in the words of the Blue Ribbon Panel, “transition and transform [their governance approach] so they can more effectively serve the needs of all citizens and all fish and wildlife.” The VWC believes such transitioning will require the Department to manage with maximum transparency, and will likely require some structural changes to Department operations. One principle of importance to VWC is that wildlife cannot be reduced to mere “game animal” status. Wildlife has intrinsic value and is vital to our ecosystem and, thus, cannot be viewed as solely a resource to be extracted to serve special interests.
While VWC originated as a grassroots effort by citizens from throughout Vermont, it intends to finalize status as a 501(c)(4) by mid-summer. Spokesperson Walter Medwid states,
“The c4 status is important because while we will prioritize public education, we also plan to pursue political action through direct lobbying, and want the capacity to do that. We also plan to create and publish an annual scorecard to evaluate legislators’ responsiveness to the needs of wildlife.” He continues, “There are a number of issues of concern that point to a need for change, and that change will necessitate new legislation or revision to current legislative enactments. One example is the recent coyote killing contest in Bristol where VWC members joined other Vermont wildlife advocates in protest. That said, we do share some common ground with the Department, for example, the need to protect wildlife habitat. We also recognize that the Department deserves much credit for their work with non-game species. The Coalition is interested in partnering with the Department whenever possible, and, ultimately, the future of wildlife is going to require all parties involved to work together more effectively, and in more areas.”
The VWC invites interested citizens to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the organization’s mailing list. Additional information about WVC is available through their website at www.vtwildlifecoalition.org and on their Facebook page.