Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Join Orion in fighting legislation that privatizes Vermont wildlife

Orion Logo
Orion - The Hunters' Institute urges others
to join them in fighting legislation
that privatizes Vermont wildlife

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Aug. 2, 2010
JOHNSON, Vt. - Orion The Hunters' Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to upholding hunting by providing intellectual leadership on hunting-related issues, urges concerned citizens, conservationists and organizations to join their efforts to defend the public's right to collective ownership of wildlife, which is jeopardized by recent legislation passed in Vermont.

In the final days of Vermont's 2010 legislative session, language known as the Nelson amendment was inserted in the appropriations bill (H.789 Sec E.702.1), which changed the status of native deer and moose enclosed on a captive shooting facility from the public domain to private ownership.

"The Nelson amendment violates 2,000 years of evolving law, which holds that live wild animals are not owned by individuals. Instead they are held collectively by all," said Eric Nuse, executive director of Orion - The Hunters' Institute. "In North America, federal, state and provincial governments are responsible for managing wildlife and their habitat on public lands. This public trust gives all citizens the opportunity to enjoy these natural resources, which includes fishing, viewing and hunting."

The principle of wildlife belonging to everyone is vastly different from the centuries-old European model where only nobility and the very wealthy were allowed to hunt. However, when Vermont's Green Mountain boys helped defeat the English during the revolutionary war, wildlife was transferred from the King to the new state and federal governments and thus to the people.

Since then, a series of Supreme Court rulings have firmly established the public trust as it relates to wildlife. The public trust doctrine of wildlife is a bedrock concept of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and is why this country enjoys the greatest diversity, quality, and quantity of game animals and other wildlife in the world.  

This legislation was reportedly passed to save a celebrity game preserve moose known as Pete from being culled. Rules governing captive-hunting facilities were adopted by the Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Board, and stipulated game preserves could not have any moose or whitetail deer in their enclosures as way to protect wild herds from chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and other diseases carried by captive animals.

"As trustee, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's duty is to look out for the best interests of the state's wildlife on behalf of its citizens," said Nuse. "Fulfilling that mandate is exactly what the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board attempted to do in its 2009 rule on the operation of captive shooting facilities; and it is exactly what the legislature violated with the passage of the Nelson Amendment."

The Nelson Amendment of H.789 contains language that transfers regulatory authority of illegally taken native deer and moose from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to the Vermont Department of Agriculture and permits an individual citizen to own and profit from those wild animals that rightfully belong to all Vermont citizens.

"This giveaway of public wildlife resources to a single individual for personal gain threatens wildlife management in Vermont and beyond," Nuse said. "To change this management system, just to solve a short-term problem without any debate or input from the public and the professionals at the Fish and Wildlife Department, is reckless governance and an abdication of the responsibility and duty of a trustee. We must now clearly tell our government that we fully expect it to live up to its fiduciary duty as trustee and return the management of all our native animals to the Fish and Wildlife Department."

Orion - The Hunters' Institute's board is especially concerned the process of transferring ownership of wildlife to an individual was not transparent. Transparency is one of the principles that must apply to alienating public trust, as outlined in attorney James H. Goetz's memorandum on the public trust doctrine, which was prepared in 2004 for Orion - The Hunters' Institute.

"Clearly the principle stating the process must be transparent was not met by the legislature in this case. No public hearings were held, the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Agency of Natural Resources officials were kept in the dark," Nuse said. "The Fish and Wildlife Board's process was open and transparent. Using a long series of public hearings and scientific testimony, they rejected the solution included in the Nelson amendment. They said it was not consistent with the public trust and found that the impairment to the beneficiary was substantial."

For more information visit the Orion blog at Fair Chase Hunting Blogspot and search for Public Trust Doctrine. Or email Eric Nuse at ericnuse@huntright.org or call 802-730-8111.


  1. In the near future Orion will be getting a working group together to plan our strategy to reverse the Nelson amendment, restore the Fish and Wildlife Department as the management authority over wildlife and to codify the Public Trust of Wildlife into statute. Groups expressing public support include the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, The Wildlife Society, VT Fish and Wildlife Board, VT Chapter of the Humane Society of the US and a bunch of individuals including the house majority leader Floyd Nease and a professor at Vt Law School. If your organization would like to be involved in planning please contact me.
    In the mean time attend political forums and debates and ask the folks running for office where they stand on the Public Trust Doctrine and if they will support reversing the Nelson amendment.

  2. Eric,
    With all due respect, I wish the news release has provided some details - anything - on how to oppose the Nelson amendment. Just planning and meeting is going to reverse this. The Legislature is ineffective and the governor's office makes its own laws, intent be damned. A lawsuit needs to be filed. And the HSUS? Really? You're going to allow those extremists into the tent on this one? Orion's principals are that shallow that you'll hop on in with the animal rights zealots?

  3. Anon, August 3, 2010 8:50 AM
    Nothing is off the table for getting this turned around - law suit is a good probability. I agree going thru the legislature will be tought, but with enough support you can make government do their job!
    I suspect we will not work directly with HSUS, but if they want to put their money and effort toward something good...
    As for immediate actions - get the word out on what the legislator did both method and content to everyone you know. Explain why reversing it is important and for them to help get the word out. Everyone understands the shady, backhanded method this was slipped thru and dislikes it.

  4. Glad to see Orion has finally "woken up" to what happened back in May. Until now, it has not issued one single press release or written one single letter to the editor or submitted one single opinion piece to a newspaper. But I fear it's two months too later.

  5. August 3, 2010 12:16 PM Anonymous:
    Up until now Orion has been playing an active behind the scenes/facilitator role. Hopefully, we will see more action resulting in some very positive things for wildlife.
    There has been press coverage in all the major VT papers with more to come. We do need TV and Radio coverage. All is helping to make the public aware of the shoddy process and the negative results of the Nelson amendment both short and long term. Now we need to build support for action in the courts and in the legislature.

  6. Eric,

    Klye Scallon of the Outdoor Magazine and My self Rodney Elmer have been on WDEV Outdoor segment talking about the sad story. He has a Monday morning at 11:00 show. I think that it would be a great idea if you talked on the radio with him as we so desperatly need more public support.

    You should also contact Rep. Phil Winter of Williamstown. and Rep. Topper McFawn of Barre, Senator Steve Adams of Hartland.

    Fred Allard the owner of the Vt/NH Outdoor Gazette. Fred has printed a lot of information about this subject in his monthly newspaper.

    I have already contact Rep. Maxzine Grad of Northfield. She is one of the LRC members and informed her the no action on her part in the furture would be a bigger crime. She would be another one to contact again.

    As taxidermists and Hunter Safety Instructors we have been talking about this in the shop to everyone the comes in. We hope to help in any way we can. Please contact us at 802-485-7184.

    We think that the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club should be doing something on this subject. Seeing that they are about fair chase and the Boone and Crocket club, conservation visions, the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation and the list goes on. They all should be involve. We encourage all of their members to petition their clubs to make a stand.

    We wonder how the Vt. Trappers Assn. Board members feel about the conflict of interest the Mr. Nelson's son is on the board and that he seems to be running damage control with the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club and a few of the local Gun Clubs???

    Information on upcoming meetings and plans would be helpful to continue the fight. Thank you for all of your help. We need more people to care like you do.

  7. Rodney.
    Thanks for your suggestions and comments. We are getting positive feedback from Rep David Deen and House Majority leader Floyd Nease. Ted Williams with Audubon Magazine is interested in including our situation in an article he his working on about the privatization of wildlife.
    We are also looking into having a VT Law School student explore the Vt Constitutionality of the Nelson Amendment. It looks to many of us as unconstitutional.
    Thanks for talking this issue up - every sportsman and conservationists should be doing the same thing!

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