Members of the Fish and Wildlife Board:
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to comment in writing on this important rule concerning retrieval and utilization of wildlife. I stand in favor of the intent of the draft rule and specifically in favor of the modified language attached to the end of this testimony.
My organization, Orion-the Hunter’s Institute was formed to raise the bar of hunter behavior, promote fair chase and democratic hunting in North America. Our definition of an ethical hunter is: “A person who knows and respects the animals hunted, follows the law, and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of them as a hunter.”
I’d like to look at this definition as it relates to the proposed rule. A major way hunters show respect for “the animals hunted” is what they do with it after the kill. For the majority of hunters this means field dressing the animal, cooling the carcass, using as much as possible of the meat, hide, and feathers. Preserving the meat, sharing the harvest and preparation of the meat in special ways and serving it on special occasions is also part of the honoring of the animal. Compare this with behaviors that the rule seeks to make illegal: attempting to take game and then failing to make a reasonable attempt to retrieve them; if retrieved, dumping unwanted or mishandled carcasses on the ice, on public lands or private lands without permission. Clearly these are egregious behaviors that no hunter would ever publicly endorse or openly admit to doing. Failure to officially sanction such actions could easily be interpreted as condoning this behavior.
The definition goes on to state “…and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of them as a hunter.” A 2007 national survey of Americans done by Responsive Management, shows that 80% support hunting if done with the intent of eating the meat. This support drops to only 20% if the purpose is for trophy. I can only imagine what the percent would be for killing commonly eaten game animals and birds or furbearing animals and then dumping the carcasses in public view without utilizing the meat or hide. I remember learning in the police academy that a good way to test if something was right or wrong is to imagine seeing yourself on the evening news doing what you are about to do. If you are willing to let the film roll it is probably OK, if not don’t do it!
Clearly the proposed rule is in alignment with the definition of an ethical hunter. The question now is should it be illegal allowing for state sanctions and enforcement or should the actions described remain unenforceable and legal? A useful way to analyze this is to determine whether harm is being done by the behavior or if the behavior is simply offensive. If this wasteful behavior is only offensive it is my position that peer pressure, group hunting codes and education are the proper ways to improve it. However, it is my strong belief that this behavior is doing real harm directly to hunters and indirectly by eroding support for hunting.
Access to private land is critical to the future of hunting in Vermont. Surveys of landowners who post their land point to poor hunter behavior as the prime reason for posting. Yet we know that it is only a small fraction of hunters who behave illegally and unethically. The reality is it only takes a few to spoil it for the many. This problem is bad enough where the few are violating enforceable laws, but when their behavior is not illegal and the landowner cannot get any help from the wardens to curtail it, it starts to look like the hunting community doesn’t care. This is especially problematic with the wanton waste issue. Why have hunters and the Board failed to act? Everyone at the hearing I attended professed to never violating the intent of the rule. Why are we protecting those who do violate this ethic?
I think a strong argument could be made that this rule does not go far enough. However, to do so could start to encroach on privacy rights, landowner rights and hunters’ use of common sense in the field. The cure could be worse than the problem. I feel the intent of the rule that came from the committee addresses the core issue, puts teeth into an ethic that most hunters follow and will minimize the harm done by those who don’t voluntarily follow the code.
Some hunters at the hearings raised the concern that the number of violations of this code is so low that we don’t need the rule. I think that is a good thing. I am proud that the majority of hunters use what they kill and trappers skin their take and anglers eat their catch or return the fish to the water. But that still does not make it OK for the few who do violate the code. I know from my years as a field warden that there are hunters who only understand the force of the law. They only did what the law required and even then only when they thought the warden was watching. They didn’t care about other hunters, the game or the future of our sport. These people need a bottom line of acceptable behavior and it is the job of responsible hunters to define that line for them. The way to do that is in the form of a regulation that is crafted by sportsmen.
Several years ago a group of dedicated hunters and professional wildlife managers looked at the success of wildlife conservation and hunting in the US over the last 100 years. They identified seven principles that took our wildlife from scarcity to abundance. Principle number 4 is “Wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purpose.”
I urge the Board to codify this principle and pass this regulation.
Thanks for your attention and your service to the wildlife and sportsmen and women of Vermont.