I owe thanks to many people reading this law digest. This past year a coalition of sportsmen and women, environmentalists and concerned citizens worked with the Fish & Wildlife Department and key legislators to affirm the most fundamental doctrine of wildlife management — that wildlife is a public trust resource.
What does that mean?
Now codified in law, it means that wildlife belongs to all of us. It means that fish and wildlife resources cannot be reduced to private ownership for exploitation, profit, or any other reason. First embodied in Roman law, public trust maintains that wildlife is held ‘in trust’ for all people, not just those who can afford it or have enough land to harbor game.
In 2010, however, a law was passed in Vermont that, in effect, granted ownership of public wildlife to a private landowner. The transfer of more than a hundred deer and a dozen moose in an enclosed fee-for-hunting facility might seem inconsequential in a state with abundant wildlife populations, but the implications were significant. Never before in Vermont history had public wildlife been transferred to private hands, and even beyond our borders the move was widely viewed as one of the most serious attacks on public trust in the United States.
Why does it matter?
The notion that wildlife is public trust is a key element of the North American Conservation model, and serves as the underpinning of the Fish & Wildlife Department’s responsibility to manage these resources for all Vermonters. Our ability to work with hunters, anglers and trappers to manage fish and wildlife
populations, guard against the spread of serious wildlife diseases, and protect Vermont’s rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals is built on the
foundation that wildlife is a public resource.
With the strong, yielding support of many people reading this, fellow hunter Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law on May 30, 2011 that declares:
“The State of Vermont, in its sovereign capacity as a trustee for the citizens of the state, shall have ownership, jurisdiction and control of all the fish and wildlife of Vermont.” It goes on to say that the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife shall manage and regulate the fish and wildlife of Vermont in accordance with legislation and rules of the Fish and Wildlife Board.
I want to thank the broad cross-section of Vermonters who worked tirelessly to help pass this legislation. The collaborative effort shows our strong and unfailing appreciation of Vermont’s fish and wildlife, and it should serve as a model for future efforts. As a result, these resources will be managed by the Fish & Wildlife Department for the benefit of current and future generations of Vermonters.
Patrick Berry, Commissioner