February 09, 2011
Vermont Wildlife Commissioner: Landowner Shouldn't Be Allowed to Sell Native Animal Hunts
By David Maccar
Bringing the fenced-hunt debate to the northeast, a Vermont businessman keeps a herd of imported elk, as well native animals, enclosed behind seven miles of fencing on his land. According to this story in the Burlington Free Press, Doug Nelson charges hunters as much as $12,500 to shoot an elk. The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, Patrick Berry, calls Nelson’s property a “captive kill facility” and says “wildlife is held in public trust for all Vermonters.”
Nelson says he doesn’t believe the public has any claim to the wild, native whitetail deer and moose within his fence.
...A list of witnesses debated that point before the House Fish and Wildlife Committee as it considered the “Pete the Moose Bill,” named for a semi-tame moose that lives behind the fence. Pete’s fate has become a cause celebre among animal activists. But Pete was pushed to the sidelines in Tuesday’s testimony, as the committee considered broader issues and was treated to two starkly different pictures of Big Rack Ridge.
That’s the property where Doug Nelson keeps a herd of imported elk, as well as the native animals including Pete. He sells hunters the privilege to shoot the elk for as much as $12,500 an animal.
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry told the committee that Big Rack Ridge is a “captive kill facility.” He said the Legislature made a “terrible mistake” last year when it decided to remove his department’s authority to regulate the operation and to allow Nelson to sell hunts for the native deer and moose.
“Wildlife is held in public trust for all Vermonters,” Berry said. “There was a terrible mistake made last year in granting ownership of native wildlife to a private individual.”
Pete, he said, is a “moose illegally taken from the wild.”
But Nelson described his operation as a “game park” and tourist attraction and told the committee he has spent as much as $100,000 a year feeding all his animals, including the natives. He said Big Rack Ridge is not just for hunting, but has the potential to become the second-largest tourist destination in the Northeast Kingdom after the Jay Peak ski area.
Nelson described Pete as a “lost soul” given refuge at the game park after being abandoned by his mother. He said he had failed to comply with past state regulations to remove all the native deer and moose because that meant seeing them killed. Although he himself plans to sell hunters the privilege to shoot the whitetails, he said he would continue to resist efforts to remove them by state-ordered killing.