Scott Names New Leaders for Environmental, Digital Divisions | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Scott Names New Leaders for Environmental, Digital Divisions


Published September 14, 2023 at 9:08 p.m.

Jason Batchelder - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Jason Batchelder
Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a new leader for the state’s environmental protection department, as well as a new chief for the Agency of Digital Services.

Jason Batchelder, who headed the warden service for the Fish & Wildlife Department from 2014 until he retired in 2022, was named commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Batchelder replaces John Beling, who served as commissioner for just over a year before becoming deputy commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Batchelder will be a “valuable asset” to the department, Scott said in a press release.

“As Vermont faces new and evolving environmental challenges, Jason will bring leadership and direction to the Department,” Scott said.

Batchelder was born and raised in the Northeast Kingdom and lives in Elmore with his wife and three children. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, served in the U.S. Coast Guard and joined the wardens full time in 2004.

In an interview on Thursday, Batchelder said it will be challenging to transition from enforcing laws about hunting and fishing to managing complex environmental regulatory programs dealing with everything from water quality to climate change.

"We were paramilitary in the warden service, and I think DEC is probably the furthest thing from that, which is great," he said.

The job of Fish & Wildlife is to make sure populations of wildlife are healthy, while the job of DEC is to establish and enforce regulations that ensure humans live in harmony with the landscape, he said.

"I think of this as the next step in my conservation career," Batchelder said.
His appointment was immediately assailed by Brenna Galdenzi, an animal rights activist and president of Protect Our Wildlife, a Stowe-based nonprofit that opposes hunting practices such as trapping and bear hounding.

“The press release highlighted Batchelder’s fondness for hunting and fishing, but that’s not what Vermont needs to lead in a positive direction in the wake of climate change, biodiversity loss, and suffering ecosystems,” Galdenzi wrote on Facebook.

She noted that Batchelder was “previously mired in controversy” at the department. She was referring to a kerfuffle over Batchelder’s failure to follow the very hunting rules he was sworn to uphold.

Batchelder shot a black bear on November 16, 2017, but failed to turn in one of the animal's premolars as required within 48 hours after he killed it. The teeth can reveal the age of bears and help determine the size and health of the population.

Batchelder’s name appeared on an initial February 2018 list of hunters who failed to comply with the rules. Realizing his oversight, he mailed the tooth in and, at the instruction of former commissioner Louis Porter, removed his name from the list that went out to the state’s 34 wardens. Violators received a warning but no other punishment.

Some wardens under Batchelder’s command cried foul and went public. Batchelder apologized. An internal investigation was launched. Galdenzi pounced. Seven Days broke the story.
Batchelder didn't address the incident directly in an interview on Thursday with Seven Days.

"We have to live and learn," he said. "I'm thankful for every day I spent in the warden service, including those hard days."
Denise Reilly-Hughes - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Denise Reilly-Hughes
Scott also appointed Denise Reilly-Hughes as secretary of the Agency of Digital Services. She has served as interim secretary since July, following the retirement of Shawn Nailor.

“I am looking forward to leading the Agency of Digital Services through the next phases of our state’s technology modernization journey and fostering deeper partnerships with fellow state leaders to drive better outcomes for Vermonters,” Reilly-Hughes said in a statement.

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