Letters to the Editor: March 23, 2023

Thank you for passing the school budget

To the Editor:

On behalf of the entire school district, we would like to express our sincere gratitude for your support in passing the budget for our students and our schools. Your decision to invest in education will have a positive impact on the lives of our students and the future of our community.

Your vote demonstrates a commitment to providing our students with the best possible educational experience, and we are grateful for your trust and confidence in us. We will continue to work hard to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment for all of our students and to help them reach their full potential.

Bonnie Birdsall
South Burlington

(Bonnie Birdsall is director of digital learning & communication for the Champlain Valley School District and she submitted this letter for the school board.)

A Fish and Wildlife Board meeting on coyote hounding

To the Editor:

I attended the most recent Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board meeting online. The meeting is held in Berlin and goes on for four hours. Anyone can share a public comment at the beginning of the meeting and you are allotted two minutes.

The board is made up of 14 individuals, all trappers, hounders and hunters chosen by Gov. Scott. They discuss everything and anything related to wildlife and are responsible for all policies that govern wildlife and affect wild animals. This includes how the animals are treated and managed, whether hounding should be regulated, “bag limits” (the number of animals allotted to kill), the length of trapping seasons, what type of instruments are to be used such as crossbows and the width or diameter of arrow heads … and on it goes. The board makes all decisions governing wildlife and has the final say, even over legislation that directly affects them.

At the beginning of the meeting, I read comments I had on S. 281, Act 165 on hunting coyotes with dogs regarding the board’s draft recommendations. The meeting was eye-opening to say the least. I knew it was bad. “The foxes run the hen house,” as the saying goes. But it was worse than that. The meeting was like going back to the late 1600s mindset when it comes to wildlife and domination over nature.

It can take far longer than two minutes to cover what is flawed, incoherent and wrong with a group of coyote and bear hounders, trappers and hounding enthusiasts deciding on how to regulate themselves. At the start of the meeting, they cried they were picked on and gave each other a round of applause.

If there is a board that has ultimate say over all of Vermont’s wildlife, members need to be voted in by the public and not chosen by the governor, who is rabidly pro-hounding and trapping. One man should not have entire control over all wildlife policy.

The board allegedly is to follow policy for protection and conservation of furbearing animals that is in the best interest of public welfare. Since people and animals have been attacked and there are consistent run-ins with landowners who do not want hounding on their property, hounding coyotes and bears needs to be banned.

The only way to reduce conflicts between hounders, hounds and the public, as well as injuries to farmed and domestic animals who fall victim to hounds, is for hounds to be on leash or on fenced-in private property.

There is no humane way of taking a coyote with dogs.

Act 165 states that a person shall not take a coyote with the aid of dogs unless the person is in control of the dogs. Yet, “control of dogs” is in direct opposition to hounding since the hunting hounds are released, off leash, to run after fleeing and terrified animals and none of the dogs can read trespassing signs.

There needs to be an objective definition of “control.” A requirement that the hounds be transported in dog boxes in the back of pickup trucks might be an acceptable definition of control for the Fish and Wildlife Board, but it is not what “control” means to the general public and for public safety. Dogs transported in a dog box are confined, not controlled. Confinement is not the same as control, nor should it be legitimized as such.

It is stated in Act 165 that those in the hound-hunting group need to be able to see and communicate with each other. Ironically, none of them are required to see or communicate with the dogs.

A GPS collar shows the approximate location of dogs which changes moment to moment. It is not a control mechanism. Likewise, a shock collar or training collar is irrelevant if it is not used correctly, the dog is not trained to understand what the shock means and when, and it’s impossible to zap multiple dogs simultaneously. If hounders are not in visual sight of their dogs, they don’t know when or how to use the shock or training collars effectively, which relegates the collars as useless in terms of control.

As it stands now, those who hunt coyotes with dogs do not need hounding permits. All they need is a hunting license and to be accompanied by one individual who has the permit. The number of hunters pursuing a coyote with dogs is unlimited. If hunters are using dogs — even someone else’s dogs — to chase coyotes, they need to be in control over the dogs and responsible for them, not just the individual permit holder.

The legal hours for pursuit of coyotes with dogs is 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset. Before and after it’s dark makes controlling a pack of dogs off-leash and on the run even further challenging. Read S. 281, Act 165. There is also a bill, H. 323, to ban coyote and bear hounding which needs support. Only if people speak up will action be taken.

Alana Stevenson

All kids deserve access to nourishing foods in school

To the Editor:

Vermont businesses large and small are pillars of our local communities: providing goods and services, offering local employment opportunities, contributing to the local economy, and advocating for the well-being of our people. Ensuring our current workforce and their families have what they need is more than just good business, it’s about creating a thriving future for our communities and state.

By supporting kids’ physical, mental and emotional development today through proper nutrition, we are investing in tomorrow’s workers and leaders. It is our job to care for our state’s students, so students can focus on their job — showing up to class able to concentrate and ready to learn all they need to become the skilled and creative people who will power Vermont’s future.

It’s simple: no student should learn what hunger feels like at school.

We can continue Universal School Meals and permanently ensure that all children, regardless of family income, are taken care of in the cafeteria. When families know that their students can eat at school, they can show up for work without the added worry of making sure school meals are taken care of.

In the last year, we have seen the positive impacts of Universal School Meals, with more than 50,000 students eating lunch and about 32,000 eating breakfast — at no cost to their families. A 2020 study by University of Vermont researchers found that universal school meals were associated with improved readiness to learn, improved school social climate as a result of financial difference being less visible, declines in financial and emotional stress for parents and students, declines in stress for school administrators related to the need to collect school meal program debts from families and increased ability of schools to purchase and serve local food.

Now our lawmakers are working to make Universal School Meals permanent in Vermont, through the bill H.165. Last year, California, Maine and Colorado made Universal School Meals permanent. Just last week, New Mexico passed permanent Universal School Meals and Minnesota and New York are poised to do the same.

A total of 22 other states, including Vermont, have permanent Universal School Meals under consideration by legislators right now. This is a national movement that Vermont started, as the first state to introduce a bill for permanent universal school meals in 2020. Let’s wrap up this bill and make it permanent in the education fund so all our Vermont families can have peace of mind, knowing their children have two nutritious meals during the school day.

Karen Colberg

(Karen Colberg is co-CEO at King Arthur Baking Company.)