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Captive hunting in Vermont

Earlier this week, The Rutland Herald published an important piece written by Joanne Bourbeau, Vermont's senior state director of the Humane Society of the United States, on the practice of captive hunting in the state. In a state renowned for its respect for nature, activists have fought hard to eliminate this industry in Vermont and have been successful in previous endeavors to pass restrictive legislation. A recent political deal that loosens these restrictions, however, has brought the issue to the forefront once again. Below is the piece written by Ms. Bourbeau in its entirety:

Many Vermont citizens don’t know that our state harbors the disgraceful practice known as “captive hunting.” Captive hunt operations hide behind innocent names like “hunting parks” and “preserves,” but in reality, they are fenced-in commercial killing pens where customers pay to shoot animals who cannot hide or escape.

The animals are often accustomed to eating at a feeding station at regular intervals, and they are unafraid of humans – a setup that guarantees a kill for trophy hunters. The odds are so stacked against these animals that the practice is utterly devoid of any concept of “fair chase.” It is hardly surprising that captive shooting is despised by a broad coalition of interests, including animal protection groups and rank-and-file hunters.

The Humane Society of the United States, representing its more than 34,000 Vermont supporters, fought for a ban on captive hunting for many years. In 2008, recognizing the inherent problems with captive hunts, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board passed regulations that prohibited any new operations from setting up shop in the state. The board allowed existing facilities to remain open, but imposed strict rules governing their operation. Most notably, they prohibited the captive rearing of species that were already native to Vermont, such as deer and moose.

While no amount of regulation can remedy the inherent problems with killing animals that are trapped inside enclosures, these rules were essential for protecting Vermont’s native wildlife from chronic wasting disease – a highly contagious infection, similar to mad cow disease, that affects deer, elk and moose. The high population densities that characterize captive hunting facilities make them dangerous breeding grounds for this serious illness that could easily spread to and decimate Vermont’s native wildlife population. Thus, the ability of the board to regulate these facilities was essential to protect the state’s precious, free-ranging wildlife.

Recently, unknown to the overwhelming majority of Vermont citizens, a late-night political deal granted a special exemption to one of these wealthy operations. The Humane Society of the United States shares the Fish and Wildlife Board’s outrage over the surprise passage of this measure exempting a captive hunting facility in Irasburg, called Big Rack Ridge, from the board’s safeguards.

Thanks to this special – and unwarranted – political favor, the wealthy owner of Big Back Ridge, Doug Nelson, no longer has to follow the captive hunting regulations of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Most significantly, this means that he can continue to raise native species, the very practice that puts our state’s wildlife at serious risk of contracting the dreaded chronic wasting disease.

Mr. Nelson frequently voices concern for wildlife, but his hypocrisy is thinly veiled. Nothing illustrates this as much as arranging captive shooting in closed-off pens then peddling the idea as “hunting.”

Canned shooting makes a mockery of the traditional ethics of Vermont’s outdoors culture. Now, things have gotten even worse – with a lone operator putting Vermont’s wild animals at risk of a horrible outbreak of disease. The Legislature has two challenges – to close this outrageous loophole as a first order of business and then phase out all shooting of captive animals for good.


Content courtesy of The Rutland Herald

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