Robert Durand, a former secretary of environmental affairs for Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to illegal hunting in Vermont after being arrested for baiting deer.
A former state senator and representative for Marlborough, Durand served in the state’s top environmental post from 1998-2002. On Dec. 19, an attorney representing Durand entered a not-guilty plea for Durand in the Superior Court of Vermont, Lamoille Circuit.
According to Jason Batchelder, a Vermont game warden, Durand was apprehended Oct. 7 in a tree stand in Eden, Vt., at a popular hunting spot where game wardens had previously identified deer bait. Batchelder said that Vermont statute prohibits putting out any food or mineral for the purpose of drawing wildlife to be shot at and that while Durand is not charged with killing any deer, any attempt to take deer over bait is equal to taking deer over bait.
Batchelder said the wardens made several trips to the area, attempting to find a hunter using the bait as a lure. “We were waiting for someone to be in that tree stand, but we didn’t know who it was going to be,” Batchelder said.
On that day, a warden spotted an all-terrain vehicle registered to Durand near the site and found him in the stand. Batchelder said he could not comment on whether the bait was discovered through routine patrol or as the result of a tip.
Durand was arrested without incident, and Batchelder said Durand’s “resume” came up several times in conversation, though he did not ask for any special treatment.
Durand, president of Durand & Anastas Environmental Strategies, a company he co-founded in 2003, said he is innocent of the charges, which he calls a misunderstanding.
“It wasn’t my stand. It wasn’t my game camera. It wasn’t my apples,” he said of the bait. Durand said he was bow-hunting with his brothers near a hunting camp they own, and because all of the tree stands he owns were in use, he took a walk in the woods and discovered the empty tree stand. “When I got up there, I realized there were apples below it. I should have gotten down when I saw the apples, but instead I stayed up there for a few minutes, and the wardens arrived shortly thereafter. But it wasn’t my stand. They know that.”
Durand took wardens to three tree stands he owns, and no bait was found near those locations, Batchelder confirmed. Durand says he has been offered a chance to plead to a lesser charge, but declined because he wishes to prove his innocence in court.
If convicted, Durand faces a maximum penalty of 60 days in prison, loss of hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for three years in Vermont, and a possible $500 fine for a first offense, Batchelder said.