• F&W love fest comes to an end at Rutland deer meeting
    March 25,2007
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    The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's love fest with deer hunters came to a grinding halt in Rutland the other night.

    Ten days ago, a group of hunters in Westminster gave a big thumbs-up to Fish & Wildlife for the way it is handling the deer herd. By a show of hands, about 90 percent of those in attendance said they were in support of the spikehorn moratorium and some of the other major changes in deer hunting just two years ago.

    Last week, by comparison, only about half of the hunters who attended a deer meeting in Rutland showed support for the department's management of the deer herd.

    Some of the deer hunters in attendance, meanwhile, went beyond a reluctance to show support. Several of them were downright hostile.

    It was the fourth of five deer meetings held around Vermont. Forrest Hammond, a Fish & Wildlife biologist, gave a brief talk about the 2006 deer season results and then opened the floor to questions.

    It was Hammond who took the flak.

    Several hunters got on Hammond about how Fish & Wildlife doesn't do a thing as coyotes, according to their accounts, chew up the deer herd in winter.

    "You guys accept the fact that coyotes are killing fawns," one hunter asked. "What are you going to do about it?"

    Hammond said that the department is well aware that coyotes kill deer in the winter, particularly during long winters with deep snow.

    "We still think that more deer die from winter severity than predators," he said.

    Another hunter told Hammond that the state should be considering other options to counter the coyote threat, including the old tried-and-failed concept of paying bounties for dead coyotes.

    Hammond then reminded the men that, in Vermont, a hunter can kill coyotes 365 days and nights a year.

    "There's an open season on coyotes," he said.

    Vermont's wardens were the next target. A hunter complained that he hasn't seen a warden patrolling his area for a long time.

    "I don't think I've seen a game warden's truck," he said. "I think they're out counting beer cans."

    One hunter, from Rupert, questioned Hammond about the lack of deer in his neck of the woods.

    "The herd is not there. The herd is gone," he said. "But you keep having doe seasons and muzzle loaders seasons."

    The hunter would ask Hammond a question and, just as Hammond got a few words out of his mouth, the guy would cut him off and not allow the biologist to answer his question. The man did it four or five times, but Hammond never lost his cool.

    After several hunters maintained that Fish & Wildlife "just doesn't listen" to the concerns of sportsmen, Hammond reminded them about how the department listened and fashioned its buck season according to the wishes of the hunting public.

    "I don't want to hear that we don't listen to you," Hammond said.

    After years of showing up at various hearings and meetings around the state, concerning not only deer, but moose, turkeys, coyotes and other critters, I've noticed a disturbing trend. It seems that the mood of any particular gathering can easily be swayed by only a few disgruntled whiners, especially if they lead off in the discussions.

    I don't know why this is, but I have a few theories:

  • Too many people are so uninformed these days. And they stay uninformed, despite the wealth of information and knowledge that is at their fingertips. But hey, it's a lot easier to be ignorant of the facts than to do your homework before you open your mouth.

    Want an example? One hunter actually asked Hammond if coyotes were "introduced" in Vermont. That is, he was asking if someone brought them here. Actually, someone did. Blame Mother Nature.

  • Myths still abound. Coyotes are bad. All hunters are good. All hunters are bad. Wild turkeys are eating all of the deer food. Game wardens are lazy. There's no deer out there. There's too many turkeys out there.

    I wish I had a dollar for one ridiculous tale that was making the rounds a few years back, when the coyote hunting tournaments were in the news. As the story goes, a local hunter had a videotape of a coyote that killed 18 fawns and dragged them back to its den. I heard that tale again and again. But I just couldn't get my hands on the tape. That's because it didn't exist. But it sure made for a good story.

    Not that the deer meeting was all whining and finger-pointing.

    Hammond did concur that the Rutland crowd had some malcontents. But he said he was particularly impressed by the discussions surrounding deer habitat improvement and what landowners and hunters can do to improve the habitat of whitetail deer.

    The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program is one good example of what Vermont is doing to help people improve deer habitat.

    Public meetings and hearings about wildlife and wildlife issues say a great deal about how open our society is. It speaks to our freedom to assemble and to discuss matters, whether we agree or disagree.

    It is when the discourse turns nasty that little or nothing is accomplished, except for perhaps the grandstanding of the few and the small. We saw way too much of that at the old Rutland High School last week.

    Contact Dennis Jensen at dennis.jensen@rutlandherald.com
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