Energy & Environment

Fish and Wildlife commissioner to step down for gig with Washington Electric Cooperative

Louis Porter
Louis Porter in 2019. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott is embarking on a search for a new commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. 

The current commissioner, Louis Porter, will soon transition to a new role as general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative. He will leave the department at the end of October. 

Porter, 45, will take over for Patty Richards, who has led the cooperative in Vermont for eight years. She announced her decision to step down in May of this year. Founded in 1939, the electrical utility is the third-largest in the state, serving about 10,800 member-owners in Washington, Orange, Caledonia and Orleans counties.

Porter said he’s long been a member of the local electric utility, and he sees the new position as a continuation of a career in public service. 

“I have a great amount of respect and appreciation for the cooperative model that it runs on,” he said. “The fact that it is a member-owned utility is a big draw.”

Porter has held a wide variety of positions in Vermont. He covered state politics as a reporter for the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus, then served as chief of the Vermont Press Bureau. He took a job advocating for Lake Champlain for the Conservation Law Foundation in 2010. 

In 2012, Porter served as secretary of civil and military affairs under Shumlin before the governor appointed him to lead the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, in 2014. When Gov. Phil Scott entered office in 2016, he kept Porter in his position. 

“Louis has been an exemplary Commissioner across two administrations,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement. “He’s served the people of Vermont well and will leave very big shoes to fill at the Department. Although we will miss him in state government, I’m confident he will continue to have an impact and want to thank him for all he’s done.”

Porter said he’s proud of a number of the department’s accomplishments throughout his tenure, including conserving tens of thousands of acres, rewriting hunting and fishing regulations, launching a clean water wetlands restoration program, launching a habitat stamp donation program and adding two wildlife management areas. 

“As a cooperative, our mission is closely linked to the well-being of the people in the 41 central Vermont towns we serve,” Stephen Knowlton, president of Washington Electric, said in a press release. “Choosing someone to lead the Co-op who has a long history in the community, and a demonstrated commitment to public service in Vermont makes sense.”

The cooperative helps other local companies provide high-speed internet in the communities it serves, along with supplying power to its members, which comes from renewable sources. 

Both Washington Electric Co-op and Vermont Fish and Wildlife “are charged with managing and promoting a shared resource that's held in common,” Porter said. 

Porter’s last day with the department is slated for Oct. 29, and the governor’s office will begin looking for a replacement in the next several weeks, according to Jason Maulucci, press secretary for the governor.

Members of the advocacy organization Protect Our Wildlife are watching closely as the Scott administration begins the search for a new candidate. The organization’s president and co-founder Brenna Galdenzi said she hopes the administration will appoint someone who is “willing to reach across the aisle and work with wildlife protection folks.”

Although sales of hunting licenses have fluctuated recently — decreasing steadily before 2020, then increasing during the pandemic — Galdenzi noted that the numbers of people who are watching and photographing wildlife are increasing

Porter said data shows hunting under current regulations hasn’t had a negative impact on wildlife populations, and “in fact, hunting has been an essential part of the incredible recovery and restoration of wildlife species.” 

Galdenzi said her group was at odds with Porter on issues like coyote killing contests and a bill currently circulating in the legislature that would ban the wanton waste of wildlife. 

Porter said the department’s policies have helped to restore and recover wildlife species. He hopes that “people evaluate its success on science and on the data,” he said.

Galdenzi said she hopes there will be less division between her group and the next commissioner. 

“We cannot move forward in protecting wildlife into the 21st century with all the new challenges and threats, from climate change to all these diseases that are showing up in wildlife, if we don't find ways to come together on areas of common interest,” she said. 

Porter said he’ll bring an environmental lens to his new position. 

“Climate change is going to be the challenge for wildlife species in Vermont and around the world,” Porter said. “Interestingly enough, climate also is a challenge for infrastructure, like electrical utilities provide to their customers.”

“This is the part of the world that I grew up in, that I want to live in, and that I want to see be successful,” Porter said. 

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Emma Cotton

About Emma

Emma Cotton is a Report for America corps member who covers the environment, climate change, energy and agriculture. Previously, she covered Rutland and Bennington counties for VTDigger, wrote for the Addison Independent and served as assistant editor of Vermont Sports and VT Ski + Ride magazines. Emma studied marine science and journalism at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Email: [email protected]

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