A Special Message from the Commissioner
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has a mission as clear any you are likely to find. The statement “conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont,” is not only simple, it encompasses both an obligation and an opportunity.
We are the stewards, on behalf of all Vermonters—whether they hunt every season or occasionally watch birds in their backyards—of all the state’s plants and creatures, from the peregrine falcon to the rainbow smelt, from the smallest endangered freshwater mussel to our resurging population of black bear, and from the dwarf birch to the lumbering moose.
But there is one word in that elegant phrase that garners too little attention. The word is habitat.
Of all the creatures in Vermont, perhaps none demonstrate the interdependence of an animal and its landscape more than white-tailed deer. Deer are more tolerant of human development than many species. A common joke among deer hunters that they frequently arrive home after a long day in remote, wild country only to spook a deer in their driveway.
Despite this tolerance of developed areas, deer depend on the landscape. Without adequate browse, and lacking the cover necessary to block winter snows or evade predators, deer numbers will dwindle. With healthy habitat, the population is incredibly resilient. But conversely, with too few hunters, deer populations can swiftly surpass what the land can support. Then, deer can rapidly overbrowse forests, cause car accidents or destroy crops.
That’s why we work to improve and protect the landscape for deer and for all wildlife. White-tailed deer in Vermont are near the northern edge of their range, struggling to survive winter’s deep snow and cold temperatures. For this reason, the Department puts high priority on protecting deer wintering habitats. Since 1995, we have protected and prevented the loss of approximately 54,000 acres of deer wintering area.
But, unlike in the West, here in Vermont 80 percent of the land is owned privately. So we try to expand our efforts beyond state property by helping landowners conserve important features on their property, and working with them to secure federal habitat-improvement grants.
Many of these projects have profound benefits to deer, ranging from creating young forest to enhancing the softwood cover of a deer wintering area. Since 2004, the Fish & Wildlife Department, in partnership with NRCS and Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, has improved more than 8,000 acres of wildlife habitat on private lands.
While there is a great deal more to be done, it’s clear that our mission has evolved into an effective, multi-faceted approach to conserving and managing habitat for the benefit of deer and for all of Vermont’s plants and animals. Working with hunters and landowners, we have been quite successful.
Together, we can create the right balance of deer, hunters, and accessible land to ensure we maintain a healthy deer population within a healthy habitat. That is our goal and our hope.
Louis Porter, Commissioner