Ross Saxton: Look to land conservation, not new hunting laws, to protect wildlife

This commentary is by Ross Saxton, a resident of Waitsfield.

Calls to protect wildlife through new state hunting and trapping laws have become more of a focus in the Statehouse recently, which is also making waves on social media and in the news.

Debates have ensued about the validity of these newly proposed laws, such as a ban on hunting bears and coyotes with hounds, along with stricter regulations on trapping.

More talking and thinking about wildlife can certainly be a great thing for wildlife conservation. However, some of this “wildlife protection” messaging is more accurately about animal welfare and is a distraction to the real solution to protecting wildlife populations — land conservation.

Although animal welfare is an important topic in modern society, it should not be confused with wildlife management. The root of proposed new hunting laws seems to be the ethics of certain hunting and trapping practices, and while contemplating the ethics of hunting and trapping is always a worthy endeavor for those pursuing game, what is ethical or moral should not lead science-based wildlife Conservation in order to achieve management goals.

It’s clear that biologists — the professional scientists entrusted with conserving our wildlife — do not totally agree that the proposed regulations described above will actually conserve wildlife effectively (see VTDigger commentary “Jaclyn Comeau: Misinformation distracts from Vermont’s bear conservation success,” Jan. 24, 2022, for one example).

What is completely clear and indisputable is that land conservation is a tried-and-true strategy for protecting our state’s wildlife. Habitat for wildlife is being threatened in greater force every year across Vermont as more and more people are looking to build new houses across our rural landscape.

Essential habitat for wildlife, including irreplaceable travel corridors, is disappearing and becoming degraded by development and forest mismanagement in many places.

There is very good news, though; Vermont is home to several effective land conservation organizations that are working every day with private landowners to protect more land and habitat; these organizations include land trusts, regional conservation partnerships, municipal, state and federal commissions and agencies; and nonprofits.

It is the work of these land conservation organizations that should be the main focus of wildlife protection if we want to achieve real, long-term wildlife conservation. Making sure that these organizations are well-funded and supported is, in my opinion, the best thing we can do to protect Vermont’s wildlife for generations to come.

No matter your stance on hunting or trapping, let’s come together and protect as much wildlife as we can through land conservation.

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Tags: animal welfare, habitat threats, hunting and trapping, land conservation, Ross Saxton, science-based wildlife conservation, wildlife

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