Compiled by Mike Dunphy and The Department of Fish & Wildlife
With spring upon us and Vermont’s wildlife shaking off its hibernal slumber, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is moving forward discussions on several changes in state policies, including the following:
Near the top of the agenda are significant changes in deer hunting rules. Milder winters and suburbanization are bringing more deer to the landscape at a time when there are fewer hunters to manage them. As a result, the Fish & Wildlife Board is proposing two new hunting seasons—one four-day session for antlerless deer two weeks before rifle season, and another for novice adult hunters that takes place during youth season.
Archery season will also be expanded in duration and location, expanding hunting in more suburban places and towns (like Montpelier), where deer are getting out of control. Crossbow use, previously only allowed for hunters over 50, will welcome all ages. The annual buck harvest bag limit has been reduced from two to one, but with regional flexibility on antler point restrictions. The changes are the result of several years of conducting surveys, holding public meetings to gather input on existing regulations from hunters, and analyzing data from the antler point restriction and its effect on antler development in Vermont’s deer.
A loosening of baitfish rules will make it easier for Vermont’s fisher folk to harvest and employ baitfish (aka “minnows”). The proposal establishes two interior zones—an East zone and a West zone—within which commercially purchased and wild-caught baitfish can be moved. It would also allow movement of baitfish between some approved bodies of water. Previously, anglers could use baitfish only on the same water where harvested and only species approved for use. The goal of this revision is to strike a better balance between protection of Vermont’s fisheries resources when it comes to fish pathogens and invasive species and opportunities to go out and connect with nature through fishing (with baitfish).
Bald Eagle Preservation
Bald eagles have not only returned to Vermont but have flourished, with 23 known nesting pairs producing at least 33 successful young in 2018, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Thanks to the success, the birds may be down-listed from “endangered” to “threatened,” but protections will remain strict, as they are still federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Furthermore, the process for listing, delisting, and downlisting is a lengthy one, with reviews required by the Bird Scientific Advisory Group of the Endangered Species Committee, and final approval by Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
Vermont’s bears may be waking up in a foul mood this spring after going into their dens hungry last fall due to a low availability of wild foods. That means bears may be more aggressive than usual in pursuit of food. The Department strongly encourages taking down bird feeders from April 1 to November 30, as nature provides birds ample flowers, seeds, fruits, and insects to live on. A garden of black-eyed Susans, milkweed, and highbush blueberry can accomplish the same as a bird feeder without luring the bears. Electric fencing, however, is strongly recommended around backyard beehives and chicken coops.