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Pa. wild-hog-hunting days may be numbered

Posted on September 10, 2012

Jeff MulhollemThe Pennsylvania Game Commission is still trying to decide on a policy to control feral swine in the state.

The wild pigs are considered to be among the most destructive of invasive species. When they escape from fences intended to control them for pay hunts -- and they apparently regularly  do -- the animals can inflict serious damage to habitat and spread disease to domestic pig populations.

If escaped feral swine establish breeding populations, it’s an ecological disaster. No state has ever been able to eliminate wild breeding hog populations, and some, such as Texas, spend millions of dollars trying to limit the damage they cause.

The Game Commission is considering a number of options. The state Supreme Court ruled several years ago that the agency is responsible for regulating feral swine.

Commissioners could outlaw the importation of wild hogs for hunting in high-fenced operations, but still allow those operations to breed wild hogs they have, maintaining huntable hog herds.

Or they could simply outlaw wild hogs in the state, forcing the high-fence operations to no longer offer wild hog hunting to customers. But hogs are their most popular quarry, high-fence hunting operation owners say.

Still, that’s what other states, such as Michigan, have done.

Commissioners discussed the issue at their recent work session in Harrisburg. Agency law enforcement chief Richard Palmer gave  commissioners a report on how other states are regulating hog hunting.

Palmer noted that he sent out a survey through the National Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association.

“I received 15 to 20 responses – in some states this is not even on their radar screens because wild hogs are not an issue,” he said.

“Considering those responses that I received, it seems like other states are all over the place in dealing with hogs.”

Some states’ wildlife management departments  have nothing to do with any regulation of hogs, Palmer pointed out. The activity is completely regulated by their state departments of agriculture.

“In states where the wildlife departments have authority, for the most part they specifically prevent hogs from high-fenced hunting.

“Almost all of the states have a prohibition on importation of wild boars.”

Commissioner Ralph Martone, from Lawrence County, who is president of the board, seemed to signal that’s the direction Pennsylvania is headed.

“I think that gives us some solid ground where we might consider starting from,” he said.

“We have already prohibited the release of hogs into the wild.

“I think what we’re seeing is that when the state wildlife departments have control, they are going as far as they can. If they have control, they are saying, ‘we don't want hogs, period.’ And who can blame them?”