Vermont Bans Guides from using State Access Areas


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Vermont Outdoor Guide Association

info@voga.org

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Article on This Issue

Commercial Use Permits For Guides

Our Petition to the Board
(This was posted in March of 2010 and although it had over 190 signatures, it was not accepted by the F & W Board. They counted this petition as representing one signature, mine.)


Reasons for This Policy:

History

The Fish and Wildlife Board adopted Rule #641 in 1962 establishing the permitted uses of access areas. They also listed some uses that were prohibited and provided for the use of access areas by organizations for organizational functions subject to the approval of the Board. This rule is found in Title 10 Appendix at section 115.

The General Assembly, through the enactment of 10 V.S.A. §4145, has authorized the Fish and Wildlife Board to regulate public use of access areas. In 1993, they amended the statute to include a prohibition against the launching of non motorized vessels used for commercial purposes and the parking of trailers associated with such vessels. Set out below for your information is 10 V.S.A. §4145.

These actions established two defining policies. The first was to allow anyone to use access areas to launch and retrieve non motorized vessels. The second was to ban commercial non motorized vessels due to fear of the state losing Federal Funding for access areas.

Myth of Loss of Federal Funding:

It has been repeated over and over by a few individuals that Vermont will lose Sport Fish Restoration funding if we allow the above mentioned activities. This is simply not true.

I have been in touch with Vaughn M. Douglass, Program Chief, Lands & Development, Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and he stated:

"As you note 522 FW 21 and 22 are policies governing use of facilities constructed and maintained with Sport Fish Restoration (SFR) funds. There has been no change in this guidance since it was issued as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy in 2006. In accordance with these policies, the activities you identify below must not interfere with fulfillment of grant objectives in order for them to take place on facilities constructed or maintained with SFR funds. I am sure you are aware that it is the State fish and wildlife agency's responsibility to make this determination. Moreover, it is the State fish and wildlife agency's prerogative to determine whether or not they will allow any commercial activities on these facilities."

Below are links to the US Fish and Wildlife Service policy regarding access area use.
Recreational: www.fws.gov/policy/522fw21.html
Commercial: www.fws.gov/policy/522fw22.html

I have contacted authorities in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and have learned that they allow guides using non motorized vessels and they have not lost Federal funding.

They do this by stating in their rules that no commercial activities can take place on access areas, as does VT. The difference is that other states targeted commerce on access areas. No money can exchange hands, no setting up shop or selling of goods or services. This way guides can sell their service from their business location and move on to the access areas to provide the service. New Hampshire is a bit different in that they freely allow guides to use access areas AND companies can take payment for their services on site. They have few problems with this arrangement.

Vermont already allows commercial motorized activities to launch and retrieve vessels for charter fishing, sightseeing tours, scuba diving and more. We also allow commercial non motorized vessels for fishing, hunting and trapping. We have not lost federal funding in spite of these commercial activities because they do not interfere with primary uses. Managed properly, neither will commercial non motorized vessels.

These Activities Will Interfere With Primary Uses:

First, I should state that primary uses of access areas must be promoted and enforced. They are for the launching and retrieval of motor boats and vessels used for fishing and the parking of vehicles and trailers used to move these vessels. Launching canoes and kayaks is not a priority use and is allowed by the F & W Board if priority use is followed. In other words, blocking motorboats from launching by having your paddle boats and vehicles in the ramp area is a violation.

There are however, underutilized access areas and car top only access areas where limited use by services for launch and retrieval would not interfere with primary uses.

Special events on access areas are allowed by permit only. I fail to understand how anyone can say that a special event  that could include hundreds of individuals on an access area is somehow a more acceptable use than a naturalist with two customers in a canoe. They both have their places.

Fish & Wildlife could do what is a common practice in land management. Every spring, the Green Mountain National Forest provides a list of trails that are overused on weekends and/or during the week. Commercial programs (both for and non-profit) are prohibited from using these trails during designated times. Is it unreasonable for F & W to provide such a list for access areas?

Parking is an Issue

Parking a van with a canoe trailer takes up no more space than a truck with a boat trailer. Customers driving to the access areas without vessels could pose a parking problem. Massachusetts deals with this issue by banning the parking of vehicles not used for fishing or hauling vessels. There are many VT access areas that have ample parking space.

Some board members have expressed concern that Vermont's large liveries will crowd out an access area as if the Board itself can not establish limits.. The fact is that the larger companies like Umiak in Stowe, Batten Kill Canoe in Arlington, Green River Canoe in Jeffersonville and others use private, municipal or other properties. Small companies do not have the resources to do the same.

Everyone Has to Pay

When the board allowed access to paddle sports enthusiasts, they did not establish a payment process. If you are launching a canoe or kayak on a State access area, access is free. Excise taxes on motor boat fuel and on hunting and fishing gear pay for our boat launches.

Some folks are using this issue as a way to encourage canoe registration and other forms of  collecting fees from those who do not pay into the system. The guiding industry seems willing to pay for permits for access but this is not enough for some. They look at all those kayaks and canoes and want everyone to pay. By holding a few businesses hostage, they think that eventually they will find a way to make this happen.

Conclusion:

A large part of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's mission is wildlife and conservation programming yet independent educators are banned from using our access areas with canoes and kayaks. People want to access Vermont's natural areas yet professionals prepared to teach outdoor ethics, boating safety and technique are banned from using our access areas. Boat builders and retailers are banned from doing demos on access areas. Wouldn't it be better to allow these activities and for F & W to partner with these services to help with education and to promote the Department's programming such as conservation plates?

It would be preferable that Vermont allow the above activities at no charge as other states have done. A permit process is a possible remedy. It may turn out that a permit process will cost more to manage than it brings in. If this is the case, then please consider the no charge option.

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Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Board Blocks Nature Guides and Paddle Sport Instructors from Fishing Access Areas

The title of this article isn’t exactly true. Nature guides, paddle sport instructors and environmental educators can use state fishing access areas if they use motor boats. Canoes, kayaks and even rowboats are banned from the above uses. Boat builders and retailers are also banned from doing demos with their vessels.

It should be noted here that any person may launch a non motorized vessel at our state owned access areas, regardless of their skills or ability. Knowledge of environmental ethics, technique and safety are not required. If you are prepared to teach these qualities, you are banned. Vermont is the only state in the northeast, possibly the country that bans these activities.

Vermont has an interesting way of managing this issue. Due to legislation enacted several years ago, the Fish & Wildlife Board may adopt rules, under chapter 25 of Title 3, to regulate public use of access areas. “These rules also shall permit the launching of all non-motorized vessels not used for commercial purposes and the parking of vehicles and boat trailers used by these vessels.”

This would seem to indicate that the Board can not set rules regarding non-motorized vessels used for commercial purposes, but this is not the case. In 2006, the Board ruled to allow fishing, hunting and trapping guides using non motorized vessels to launch, retrieve and park on state access areas.

Commercial use of federally funded access areas is banned in every state that receives federal funds under the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. This has not stopped states from allowing the launching and retrieving of vessels used by businesses because it is up to the state to determine what activities do not interfere with the primary uses of their access areas.

While commercial activity, the exchange of moneys and setting up a place of business are banned under federal law, most states allow the launching and retrieving of vessels used by businesses. This includes Vermont. Virtually any business using a motorboat including charter boat companies, motorized touring companies, scuba diving services and now non-motorized vessels used by fishing, hunting and trapping services can use our access areas.

Vermont is however, the only state in the northeast that bans certain services from using canoes and kayaks on state access areas while allowing others. I have tried to work with the Fish & Wildlife Department for 10 years to correct this problem. Resistance from individuals within the department has been strong.

In order for the F & W Board to make informed decisions, they need information based on fact yet are fed misinformation by Department staff. Scare tactics including threats of loss of Federal funding and overcrowding at access areas have routinely been offered up in their successful attempts to block progress. One former F & W employee continues to testify against rule changes while he holds a permit to use a fishing access as a personal parking lot for his hunting camp. Not exactly a primary use.

Over the last ten years VOGA has made several proposals to the Board including the use of permits, opening up the 90 or so underutilized access areas and allowing the above uses on car-top and carry on access areas only. We have suggested that parking in access areas be limited to vehicles used only for launching, retrieving of vessels or for fishing. All of our petitions have been voted down by the Board due to the influence of a few F & W employees.

The only recourse is to change chapter 25 of Title 3 and strike “not used for commercial purposes”. Who knew that Vermont would become a national leader in paddle sport participation per capita at the time this legislation was passed?

Please contact me if you interested in helping resolve this issue.

Sincerely,

Graydon B Stevens
Executive Director
Vermont Outdoor Guide Association
P.O. Box 10 North Ferrisburg, VT 05473-0010
802-425-6211
info@voga.org
www.voga.org 

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§ 4145. Access, landing area rules.

(a)  The board may adopt rules, under chapter 25 of Title 3, to regulate the use by the public of access areas, landing areas, parking areas or of other lands or waters acquired or maintained pursuant to section 4144 of this title. Such rules shall be posted in the areas affected and shall permit the launching of all vessels which have a Vermont registration certificate required by chapter 29 of Title 23 and the parking of vehicles and boat trailers used by these vessels. The rules shall not preclude the authorization to launch vessels not registered in Vermont. These rules also shall permit the launching of all nonmotorized vessels not used for commercial purposes and the parking of vehicles and boat trailers used by these vessels. 

(b)  The commissioner may enter into agreements with owners of land, which shall not involve payment to the landowner, in order to allow public access for launching of nonmotorized vessels in public waters. The commissioner may agree to upgrade the land area in a minor way; for example, the commissioner may agree to build a footpath to the water, build and maintain a small parking area, or perform minor grading to improve boat access. The commissioner may not agree to major upgrading, such as building a launching ramp or paving a parking area. A landowner who enters into an agreement under this subsection shall be afforded the landowner liability protections of section 5793 of Title 12. The commissioner shall post signs in these areas, inviting private contributions to the fish and wildlife fund for the purpose of building and maintaining nonmotorized vessel access areas, and shall issue to any person contributing, a sticker which may be placed on a vessel and which identifies the person as a contributor to the nonmotorized vessel access area program. 

(c)  The commissioner shall keep account of funds, including private donations and state appropriations, which are deposited into the fish and wildlife fund for the purpose of building and maintaining access areas and shall annually, on or before January 15, report to the house committee on fish, wildlife and water resources, the senate committee on natural resources and energy and to the senate and house committees on appropriations, concerning the use of those funds in the past year and plans for use of the funds for the coming year. 

Added 1961, No. 119, § 1; amended 1991, No. 230 (Adj. Sess.), § 14; 1993, No. 52, § 5; 1999, No. 76 (Adj. Sess.), § 1