Meet the VT Fish & Wildlife Board
Within the Fish & Wildlife Department, the Fish & Wildlife Board (FWB) is the body that makes decisions about game animal regulations and policies. The Board consists of 14 members, one from each Vermont county, as well as the board's chair – currently, Kevin Lawrence. They are largely volunteers, although they do get a small stipend per meeting and travel costs.
The FWB is a separate entity from the Fish & Wildlife Department. In 1961, the legislature restructured the Fish & Game Service that at the time was managed by five commissioners. As a result, the Department was left with one commissioner, and a seven-member Fish & Game Board was created. This Board was allowed to set hunting season dates, bag limits and other rules not already in statute.
In 1984, the name Fish & Game was changed to Fish & Wildlife for both the Department and the Board, with the Board expanded to 14 members, one from each county.
Besides regulating hunting, fishing and trapping, the Board sets the annual antlerless deer and moose hunting permit allocations, and it votes on proposals submitted to the Department. It also has brought ideas raised by the public to the Department, for example, the archery moose season. Nonetheless, the Board does not manage the Department’s budget or operations.
The Board gets to decide about a range of wildlife issues. In 2016, for example, they spent many hours considering a proposal by a trapper to extend the bobcat and otter trapping season, each by one month, In 2016, they also decided to hold a moose hunt and set target numbers for moose taken, despite the fact that the moose herd is well below the minimum desirable population identified in the state plan. Board decisions, thus, do have an impact. The Board gets feedback from department experts, such as wildlife biologists, and from the public, but theirs is the final word. Board members are not required to explain how they arrived at their decision. In the end, each member votes, and the votes are tallied, with majority ruling. That said, decisions do get vetted in the end, to some degree, by a legislative committee to ensure that basic laws are followed.
Although membership in the Board results from appointment by the governor, and is theoretically open to the public, very rarely does someone who is not a hunter, trapper or angler sit on the Board. This is increasingly a bone of contention given that their mission is “the conservation of all species of fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont” (underlining added). Of course, many Vermonters, an increasing percentage over time, in fact, are not hunters, trappers or anglers, and they wonder why they don't have more influence over important decisions affecting wildlife.