"I am here to announce," said the greybearded plaid-wearing man, "the death of the bifurcated conservationist."
His voice rose as he spoke into the microphone, he paused for effect, and then he continued. "I AM HERE TO ANNOUNCE," another pause, "THE ARRIVAL OF THOSE WHO GET IT."
The slight drawl was tinged with emotion, full of reason, and echoed through the chamber. Steve Wright, a former Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department commissioner and current regional rep for the National Wildlife Federation, sat across from six Vermont legislators. Behind him were more than 100 people, crammed into a meeting room in the state capitol last night.
They sat on the floor, they stood in the back, and they spoke. Below the gold dome, just around the corner from that gigantic (and sorta creepy) portrait painting of HoDean, the gathering was the single public hearing for a proposed state resolution to reallocate 1/48th of the current sales tax toward the Fish & Wildlife Department.
It's a big deal. With the vote, the department would raise more than $6 million a year and be eligible for close to $2 million in federal matching funds.
Without it ... the department will run a deficit, and be bailed out by a $2 million check from Vermont's general fund, as it has for the last several years.
The group that's backing the proposal (aka, the Vermont Wildlife Partnership) is a big tent coalition, including everybody from DU, TU, and the National Trappers Association to the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and Isis. They represent a new sort of conservation group ... one that doesn't care whether you're a caster, a blaster, a trapper, or a treehugger.
They acknowledge that fish and wildlife is a resource that benefits all Vermonters, whether they wear orange or not. And they also acknowledge that paying for their custody through permits only is like charging only those in red trucks for the cost of highway upkeep.
The reasons for the funding ... as expressed in the room last night ... were countless: plummeting permit sales, century-old fish hatcheries, the arrival of aquatic invasive species, struggling deer populations, the closure of private lands to fishing and hunting, climate change, lack of enforcement, lack of education, and sheer lack of resources to do what's already on the table (aka, the Vermont Wildlife Action Plan.)
The reasons against it ... on the other hand ... were solely political.
The big question in the room wasn't whether more funding for Vermont's fish and wildlife was a good idea (no one can argue that point), but rather what is the priority of the natural world in this current era?
Is it one of the top 48 reasons that you live in Vermont? Or is it something that you feel should be at the mercy of politics, year after year?