June 24, 2010
Editorial: Secrecy fatal flaw in Pete the Moose bill
The saga of the amendment passed to save Pete the Moose from slaughter reflects a deeply troubling disregard for the open government and the idea that our elected representatives always must keep the broad public interest foremost in mind.
The legislation granted Big Rack Ridge in Irasburg exemptions from state hunting preserve regulations that banned the enclosure of wild game and the mingling of wild and captive animals.
The intent was to allow the preserve to keep Pete the Moose, an orphaned moose raised in captivity, but the law also allows Big Rack Ridge to claim ownership of wild white-tailed deer and wild moose within its fenced lands.
The result was a transfer of what has always been a public good to a private individual who may use it for personal gain -- in this case, as fodder on a hunting preserve. Right or wrong, the best intentions can be obscured behind a veil of secrecy. That the law, as the Free Press reported, was "written behind closed doors, kept secret from the Fish and Wildlife Department and introduced on the session's final day" is its fatal flaw.
No one familiar with how government works in this state should be surprised at the dark route this amendment traveled to passage. Secrecy is often the way business gets down from town offices to the Statehouse.
Many can claim credit for keeping the moose bill from anybody who might have a stake in this issue other than the owners of Big Rack Ridge: Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, for writing an amendment to benefit Doug Nelson in secret; Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, candidate for governor, for adding the Starr amendment to the must-pass state budget on the final day of the session when there was no time for a proper debate; and Gov. Jim Douglas for his administration's participation in the cover-up.
Brian Ames, chairman of the state Fish and Wildlife Board, describes the whole situation as "depressing, discouraging." He raises the critical point that no one can treat wildlife like a personal pet "except if you are well-enough connected, apparently you can."
That's the point.
The measure loses credibility because it was drawn up and passed without public knowledge or debate, kept secret from even the regulators and experts within state government, and benefits a man who an aide to the governor who helped keep the bill a secret says "has been flouting the law for years."