Guest column: Conservation requires a multifaceted approach

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At the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, we conserve fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont. We actively dedicate our careers (and some would say our lives) to this promise, particularly to habitat conservation, which is absolutely critical to the survival of all species. Along with the work the public readily sees, we spend significant amounts of staff time and resources on land acquisition, public and private lands habitat management, and environmental regulatory work to protect critical fish and wildlife habitats.

We also care very deeply about the welfare of the animals entrusted to our management and about ensuring their respectful treatment. Almost daily, our staff—ranging from state game wardens and biologists to educators and office support staff—regularly provide technical assistance to homeowners and landowners regarding the protection of individual animals including bats, beavers, moose, trout, snakes, black bear, and turtles. In addition, the Department participates in national research efforts led by biologists, veterinarians, and researchers to maximize the welfare of animals captured in traps.

With this concern for animals' well-being, some may ask, how can the same Department then promote hunting, fishing, and trapping? Shouldn't these activities be in conflict with our conservation mission?

Don't they endanger the species we are working so hard to protect?

Conservation is about more than leaving wildlife alone in the woods. We do not live in a pristine environment but rather one that has been shaped by human activity for hundreds of years. Regulated, legal hunting and trapping are among the most effective tools we have for managing those wildlife populations at risk of becoming overpopulated, unhealthy, or otherwise running into conflict with our human manipulated landscapes. By necessity, conservation must include the wise and thoughtful use of our wildlife resources and, perhaps most significantly, it is through this mindful consumption that many people find a deep and abiding respect for and understanding of wildlife which leaves them with an enduring desire to conserve these resources for future generations.

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In addition to providing a strong connection to the land, hunting, fishing, and trapping, offer many Vermonters with locally sourced, sustainably harvested, organic food and fiber products. It is hard to find more environmentally sensible options than harvesting these resources from one's own backyard.

Sportsmen and women in turn provide an important source of funding for species recovery and habitat protection and often actively participate in voluntary conservation activities for nongame species as well. Some of the state-endangered American marten (a small weasel-like mammal) that currently exist in Vermont today, for example, descend from those that were caught and moved by trappers from New York and Maine for the express purpose of reestablishing a viable population of this native furbearer in Vermont. Their efforts not only align with Vermont's conservation ethic but they demonstrate strong support for the mission of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department as well.

In fact, when asked in a survey this summer whether "Knowing that Vermont's native populations are healthy and surviving well is very important to me, even if I don't get to see them," 85 percent of Vermont residents strongly agreed. When hunters were asked the same question, a whopping 90 percent agreed. When considering the statement: "Threatened and endangered species must be protected," 81 percent of Vermonters strongly agreed—another impressive response. However, some may be surprised to know that hunters showed an even greater commitment to endangered species, with 86 percent strongly agreeing. These numbers illustrate the considerable interest Vermonters have for sustaining fish and wildlife populations into the future, with traditional sportsmen and women leading the way.

Today, the greatest threats to Vermont's wildlife populations are habitat loss, climate change, forest fragmentation, invasive species, and the growing lack of connection to the outdoors experienced by our children. Fortunately, most Vermonters support conservation efforts to protect our cultural heritage and keep Vermont's fish and wildlife abundant and wild. By doing our part to conserve wildlife and the habitats upon which it depends and by taking the time to share this wonderful state with our families, we can ensure that our kids have the chance to experience and appreciate native wildlife in their home state for generations to come.

— Kim Royar is special assistant to the commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. She lives in Wallingford.


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