Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a longtime firefighter who is the deputy public safety commissioner to head up the state's Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Commissioner Chris Herrick, who lives in South Hero, will head a department responsible for the management and conservation of wildlife and their habitats, including protection of endangered species and enforcement of hunting, fishing and trapping laws.
Herrick replaces Louis Porter, who is leaving after seven years to be general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative.
It’s the second time in a week that Scott has appointed a new commissioner with experience in fields outside the departments that they will lead.
Last week Scott appointed Nick J. Deml, a Central Intelligence Agency official, to be commissioner of the Department of Corrections.
Herrick has been a volunteer firefighter in South Hero for 30 years, including five as chief. He has headed the state’s HAZMAT team, served as the director of Vermont Emergency Management, and was appointed deputy commissioner in 2017.
In addition to policy work with the Department of Public Safety, Herrick has helped manage the flow of COVID-19 testing supplies and overflow hospital sites that went largely unused.
Herrick will take the helm of a department under intense scrutiny from animal rights groups. They've been galvanized over issues including an open season on coyotes, the hunting of bears with hounds, and trapping of animals like bobcat and river otter.
Walter Medwid, co-founder of the Vermont Wildlife Coalition, said he hopes Herrick reaches out to groups like his that have advocated unsuccessfully for years to restrict unnecessary and inhumane hunting and trapping practices.
Herrick, he said, does not appear to be the kind of “change agent” needed to bring about a more conservation-minded approach to wildlife management that is less beholden to hunting interests.
“All indications suggest that this is the appointment of an insider that’s going to do the governor’s bidding and maintain the status quo," Medwid said, though he stressed he hoped this was not the case.
Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife, sounded more receptive to the new commish.
"While we would have preferred to see someone with a background in environmental sciences, we are excited at the opportunity to hit the reset button with someone new," she wrote in a statement. "He appears to have important leadership qualities, which is a huge part of the role. And my dad is a retired firefighter, so we have that in common! We hope to meet with him soon to discuss possible shared areas of interest."
In a press release, Scott praised Herrick for his leadership and knowledge of state government.
“He will serve the state well in this new role and contribute to our already successful, science-based management and conservation of wildlife, land and waters,” Scott said.
Herrick holds degrees from St. Michaels College and the University of Vermont. He enjoys kayaking, fly fishing, hunting, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, according to the release.
Audubon Vermont and Vermont Natural Resources Council issued a press release thanking Scott for the appointment
"We are optimistic that the Governor’s choice of someone with demonstrated leadership skills in the public sector, and stated commitment to conserving and protecting our wildlife and the places our wildlife need to thrive, will serve Vermont well," the release stated.