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Source: Brattleboro Reformer Dec. 29, 2008

BRATTLEBORO -- After almost 10 years of debate, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board has approved a rule that regulates "captive hunting" preserves in the state.

The new rule, which was unanimously approved by the Fish and Wildlife Board on Dec. 17, prohibits any new preserves from opening in Vermont and forces the existing preserves in the state to apply for licenses to allow them to continue to operate.

The Vermont Legislature in 1999 authorized the board to develop a rule for high-fenced hunting, where customers can pay a fee for the experience of shooting an animal within a caged area.

Once the rule is formally adopted in early January, Vermont will become the 24th state to regulate or ban game preserves.

"The board was reluctant to take this up. The board has issue with this practice but we didn't want to put anyone out of business," said Brian Ames, a Putney resident and the chairman of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board.

The board is made up of one representative from each of Vermont's 14 counties.

"But we didn't want to see an expansion in the state. Vermont hunters as a whole have a very high ethical standard when it comes to fair chase and in general there is some concern about the way these two operations perform."

There are currently two preserves in the state; one is in Derby and the second is in Fairlee.

Ames said he expects the rule to be challenged in court.

The vote earlier this month follows a very long process that stalled a few times since the Legislature triggered the board to write a rule.

In 2001, before the board was expanded to include 14 members, the board split on a 3-3 tie and the chairman refused to cast a vote to break the tie.

Also, since the issue was first raised in Vermont, chronic wasting disease has spread among deer herds in the Midwest and Northeast.

Ames said the board was compelled to write the new high fence hunting rule to protect the native animals in the state.

The new rule prohibits any new game preserves from opening.

The two existing preserves will be prohibited from stocking native species such as white tailed deer and moose and will be forced to prove that their enclosures do not allow wild animals to enter.

They will be given one year to come into compliance and apply for a permit.

Any failure to meet the letter of the rule could lead to one of the facilities losing its permit.

In the end, the full board voted in favor of the rule, Ames said even after 10 years, the board did its best to satisfy advocates on all sides of the issue.

"I think we all could agree on 85 to 90 percent of the rule," Ames said. "There are always going to be things we would never come to agreement on."

"We would have liked to see the elimination of the existing facilities as well but we are happy that the rule was strengthened to prohibit new facilities from opening in the state," said Joanne Bourbeau, New England regional director of the Humane Society of the United States. "There have been several versions of this rule and it has been a very long process."

The Humane Society has been watching the rule procedure develop in Vermont since the Legislature first started the debate more than a decade ago.

She said the group generally opposes all hunting but takes particular offense to killing animals that have no chance of escape.

The emergence of chronic wasting disease over the past few years strengthened the call for stricter regulations, Bourbeau said and during the last few public hearings the call for a new Vermont rule got louder.

"Hunters and non hunters agree that when you have animals in a fenced in area it is not the traditional type of hunting," Bourbeau said. "In reality they are commercial killing fields where customers pay to kill an animal in an enclosure. We would like to see all of them closed but this is step in the right direction."

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We banned these in Montana a few years ago. It was the result of hunters, non-hunters and anti-hunters working together toward a common goal. I don't know how this plays out in other states, but really can't see it here. I worked and voted for it. Hope it works out in my old home state of Vermont.
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