Joined by sportsmen and women at the Barre Fish and Game Club, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the Sportsmen’s Act of 2013, legislation spearheaded by the Fish & Wildlife Department in coordination with members of the Legislature and many hunting, fishing, trapping, and other traditional interest groups.
“This law represents the important working relationship between the Fish & Wildlife Department, the administration, legislators, and key fish and wildlife partners,” said Gov. Shumlin. “It will protect our fish and wildlife resources, provide additional recreational opportunities, and support improved administration for the department and the Fish and Wildlife Board.”
“I want to thank all of you who worked together to shepherd this comprehensive bill through the legislative process,” said the Governor. “The Sportsmen’s Act of 2013 will benefit Vermont’s fish and wildlife resources, as well as those of us who enjoy them. It seems fitting that we are adopting it shortly after Vermont was recognized in a federal survey as the state with the second highest participation rate in fish and wildlife¬¬¬-based recreation, second only to Alaska.”
The bill includes the following provisions:
• Prohibits the importation and possession of feral hogs in Vermont. Many state fish and wildlife agencies are fully engaged in attempts to reduce or eradicate wild hog populations, which can carry various diseases and are extremely destructive to wildlife habitat.
• Requires that any person taking a nuisance bear must first attempt reasonable non-lethal measures to protect his or her own property. Under current law, there is no requirement for property owners to create an aversion for bears who may threaten property. In the law, there is an exemption for exigent circumstances or damage to corn fields.
• Prohibits the intentional feeding of black bears. Previously, there was no prohibition for feeding black bears in Vermont, which has increased the number of nuisance bear problems in the state.
• Repeals reimbursement for deer and bear damage. The Fish & Wildlife Department is no longer required to reimburse a claimant for damage to crops, fruit trees or crop bearing plants by deer; and for damage to livestock and bees by black bear unless the claimant derives at least 50 percent of their income from farming.
• Allows landowners the opportunity to legally post their property so that hunting, fishing and trapping would be allowed only by permission. Previously, landowners wanting to control access for these activities were forced to post against trespass by anyone, which led to an increase in the amount of inaccessible land in Vermont.
• Defines posting for landowners wishing to receive a landowner antlerless deer hunting permit to mean any signage that would lead a reasonable person to believe that hunting is restricted on the land. Previously, some landowners were posting their land against hunting, but not registering with the town clerk according to Fish & Wildlife law – and then applying for priority landowner antlerless deer hunting permits. The bill makes it clear that these landowners would not be allowed to receive landowner antlerless permits.
• Clarifies that a person who is under suspension for the right to hunt, fish and trap may not hunt on their own property during the period of suspension.
• Increases the distance a hunter can shoot from the road from 10 feet to 25 feet, prohibits shooting across a public highway, and creates a working group to address the taking of game from motor vehicles or public highways in Vermont. The working group will consist of the Commissioner or a designee, two members of the Fish and Wildlife Board, two State Game Wardens, and two people who hold a valid Vermont hunting license. The group must report back to legislative committees with recommendations by December 15, 2013.
• Allows for possession of handguns during archery season and while training hunting dogs. Creates more consistency with rights currently afforded to hikers, wildlife watchers and others.
• Authorizes the Commissioner to designate an additional Free Fishing Day during ice fishing season. One of Fish & Wildlife’s goals is to enhance opportunities for wildlife-based recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife viewing. This would encourage people to try ice fishing.
• Grants authority to the Fish and Wildlife Board to regulate the use of crossbows during hunting seasons. Under current statute, there is ambiguity as to whether the Board has authority to regulate the use of crossbows.
• Authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Board to set the annual number of antlerless deer and moose permits through a shorter procedure, rather than through a lengthy rule-making process. It also requires public participation in that process and requires permit numbers to be incorporated into the department’s annual deer report to the Legislature. Previously, when Fish & Wildlife proposed annual antlerless deer and moose permit numbers to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board, the permit numbers were authorized through a rule-making process that took at least four months. By allowing the permit numbers to be approved through a shorter procedure, hunters will receive their permits earlier.
• Authorizes the Fish and Wildlife Board to set Wildlife Management Unit boundaries no more frequently than every 10 years without approval of the Legislature. Previously, any wildlife management unit boundary change had to be approved by Legislature. Transferring authority to the Fish and Wildlife Board to periodically alter unit boundaries will maintain consistency in wildlife management programs, yet still allow for public input into unit boundaries.
• Transfers permitting authority from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the State of Vermont for falconry permits. A federal regulation change requires falconers to obtain a single state permit that needs to comply with the general federal regulations. Vermont has until Sept.. 1, 2013, to submit compliance documentation.
• Allows the Commissioner to issue three no-cost moose permits for individuals with a life-threatening illness provided that at least one permit is awarded to an individual under the age of 22. Statute currently authorizes the department to issue up to three no-cost moose hunting licenses only to youths age 21 years or younger who have life-threatening illnesses.
• Authorizes the department to raffle off promotional prizes in an effort to increase public involvement and participation in department activities.
• Sets a minimum amount of $1,500 for a winning bid to receive a moose permit in the moose hunting permit auction.
• Allows the Commissioner to issue an annual therapeutic group fishing license to a health professional for up to four people for $50. The fee is waived if the applicant providing care is a certified “Let’s Go Fishing” instructor.
VERMONT’S WILDLIFE RECREATION AT A GLANCE -- 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Census Bureau.
• Vermonters rank first among residents of the lower 48 states in enjoying fish and wildlife resources recreationally with 62 percent of us going fishing, hunting or wildlife watching. Nationally, Alaskans are slightly ahead of us with a participation rate of 64 pecent.
• Vermont topped all the other states nationwide in “wildlife watching” with 53 percent of our residents viewing, feeding or photographing wildlife during 2011.
• Vermont led the New England states in hunting and fishing with 26 percent of residents participating in one or the other, or both.
• Residents and nonresidents spent $704 million in Vermont enjoying fish and wildlife recreation, according to a 2011 federal survey. Hunting $268.7 million // Fishing $147.2 million // Wildlife Watching $288.5 million
Media Contacts: Louis Porter, Office of the Governor, 802-595-3691; Patrick Berry, Fish & Wildlife, 802-241-3700