Supreme Court tells PGC: Deal with hogs

Harrisburg – Like the proverbial holiday fruitcake, feral hogs
are the gift that no one has ever wanted to claim.

Now, though, like it or not, they belong to the Pennsylvania
Game Commission.

That’s essentially what the state Supreme Court ruled Dec. 29,
when it classified wild boars as a “protected mammal” and therefore
subject to protection by the Game Commission.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania
Legislative Animal Network board member and Humane Society “police
officer” Johnna Seeton to force the Game Commission to investigate
alleged Game and Wildlife Code violations at the Tioga Boar Hunting
Preserve.

“We reject the commission’s attempt to identify wild boar as
‘domestic’ by reclassifying it without any authority, legal or
taxonomical, as a member of the supposed ‘pig family,’” wrote
Justice Max Baer for the court’s majority. “Thus, wild boar
necessarily are ‘wild animals’ under the Game and Wildlife
Code.”

Essentially, that means the commission has to regulate the
management of wild boars in some fashion, according to Carl Roe,
commission executive director.

“Prior to the court’s ruling, the Game Commission had no
regulatory oversight or authority for wild boars. Now, we are
seeking to clarify and appropriately regulate the protection of
wild boars that was put in place by the court,” Roe said.

“It may just be that the courts believe someone needs to
regulate this,” said Dan Hill, a Game Commission board member from
Erie.

“The question then is, if not us, who? This certainly opens the
door to that debate.” It figures to be a hot one, too. When word of
the ruling got out, commission offices were “flooded” with calls
from people wanting to know if it’s still OK to shoot the pigs,
said one agency source.

Wild hogs – escapees from private hunting preserves – have been
taking up residence in the wild in various places across
Pennsylvania. The southcentral portion of the state has been a
hotbed for the hogs. Bedford and Cambria counties are known to have
pigs reproducing in the wild. Unconfirmed reports put young pigs in
Warren and Montgomery counties, too.

Earlier reports have suggested the pigs also exist in a number
of other counties, however, including Butler and Somerset.

These hogs are considered a non-native invasive species, and one
that can do considerable damage to the habitat needed by deer,
bears and other desirable species to survive.

“They are extremely destructive to crops, wildlife habitat and
the environment, and they are a danger to wildlife and domestic
animals and a threat to the pork industry, especially since they
are carriers of diseases and parasites that can infect livestock,
wildlife and humans,” Roe noted.

Initially, the commission’s stance was to tell hunters that
because the pigs are not a game animal, it was OK to shoot them
when and where they found them. The hope was that hunters would
wipe them out.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials later warned against
that, however, suggesting that hunting the hogs actually dispersed
them over a wider area. Instead, officials with that agency spent
the past year trying to eradicate the hogs by trapping them.

That work may continue, but the court ruling is going to force
some changes. Agency staff are developing regulations to manage the
shooting of hogs. The proposal under consideration now would remove
the protection on wild hogs during all big-game seasons except
spring turkey. That would allow hunters to shoot hogs during the
deer and bear seasons without necessarily creating a specific hog
season.

Commissioners are expected to consider that proposal or
something similar when they meet in Harrisburg Jan. 27 to 29.

Farther down the road, the commission may also have to figure
out how to deal with hunting inside fenced preserves.

A second, and equally far reaching, aspect to the Supreme
Court’s ruling was its insistence that the Game Commission should
also be responsible for managing hunting in private, fenced-in game
preserves. That would seem to apply not only to hogs, but to all
other species, including everything from deer and elk to buffalo
and even more exotic species.

The Supreme Court did not specify exactly what it expects of the
commission. Instead, it tasked the state’s Commonwealth Court with
reviewing that idea and coming up with a decision.

The commission will not make any moves to address hunting in
preserves until that court makes a ruling, said spokesman Jerry
Feaser. “The final chapter has not been written on this one.”

It’s clear what the Humane Society and Seeton are seeking,
however. Seeton called the court decision a step toward her goal of
an end to “canned” hunts.

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