Walter Medwid: A chance to transform Vermont Fish & Wildlife

No starker test exists of the governor’s vision for this state and for its stewardship of its natural assets. Is his north star trapped by the past or could it be focused on the urgent present and future challenges?This commentary is by Walter Medwid, a resident of Derby

For over a half-century, there have been calls to modernize how Vermont administers the management of wildlife — by law a public asset that must be managed to serve the public.

With the necessity of having to choose a new commissioner for the Fish & Wildlife Department, Gov. Scott is at a crossroads. Does he choose a commissioner to keep Fish & Wildlife in cruise-control mode or does he choose a commissioner charged with bringing the department into the 21st century?

Never have the calls for modernizing the Fish & Wildlife Departments been greater, nor has the need. The calls come from the top leaders in the wildlife profession, from the organization that represents the interests of state fish and wildlife agencies (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) in its call for departments to “transform,” from Vermonters as indicated in results from the respected Vermonter Poll that show broad public opposition to many wildlife policies, and even from the majority of staff at Fish & Wildlife who indicate management is not doing enough to address change, as a Colorado State University survey shows.

That same survey showed that the majority of staff identify with a traditionalist/domination stance over wildlife, in that it is there to be utilized. That compares with the greatest block of Vermonters identifying as mutualists — that is, an orientation that seeks to live with wildlife.

Fish & Wildlife management is hiring staff to ensure they identify with management’s outlook of license holders (license sales peaked in the mid-1970s) being the priority audience to serve, rather than reflecting the values that the majority of citizens hold.

Add to this, we have nearly 1,000 species in the state that have been identified as species in greatest conservation need. The imperative to make a bold decision has never been greater.

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ recent report titled “The Future of America’s Fish and Wildlife” reached two conclusions, one on funding and the other on the state of agencies.

On agencies, the report stated, “… agencies will need to transform their structures, operations and cultures to meet the changing expectations of their customers. If state fish and wildlife agencies fail to adapt, their ability to manage fish and wildlife will be hindered and their public and political support compromised.”

Elections have consequences and the governor gets to choose the path forward. Does he kick the can down the trail for a new governor to address the systemic issues or does he heed the chorus of calls pointing to the urgent need for change? Does he choose a commissioner who will begin to transform the department and close the chasm between the department and the cultural and ecological landscape before it?

No starker test exists of the governor’s vision for this state and for its stewardship of its natural assets. Is his north star trapped by the past or could it be focused on the urgent present and future challenges of this department?