Hog dilemma proves vexing for agency

Harrisburg – For Pennsylvania game commissioners, wild hogs
present the worst sort of conundrum. They want the destructive
pests destroyed, but they are afraid to ask hunters to kill
them.

At their quarterly meeting in late January, commissioners
grudgingly removed the protection from wild boars “to allow
incidental taking” during deer, bear and fall turkey seasons. That
means hunters can shoot them then if they see them.

“We are not going to call it hunting,” said Commissioner Russ
Schleiden, of Centre County.

“From my perspective, this is an eradication process rather than
a hunting effort,” agreed Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie. “This is
a different mode for us.”

Late last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that wild
boars are protected mammals under the Game and Wildlife Code and
ordered the Game Commission to manage them. As a result, the agency
had to take regulatory action to remove protection from wild hogs
to allow hunters to shoot them.

Make no mistake, the Game Commission – along with most every
other land-owning organization in the state – wants all wild hogs
killed. The beasts – which Dr. Walt Cottrell, Game Commission
wildlife veterinarian, has called “ecologically devastating in a
variety of ways” – represent a grave threat to habitat, native
wildlife and property values.

But commissioners are reluctant to ask hunters, to get serious
about eliminating feral pigs for two reasons.

First, rather than wiping out wild hogs, hunting pressure tends
to spread out populations. Hunters may kill a few of the extremely
intelligent animals, but the rest flee and may not stop until they
get to the next county, where they breed successfully.

And second, commissioners worry that Pennsylvania hunters will
enjoy hunting them, and a hog-hunting culture will develop and
endure.

Ironically, state Rep. Robert Godshall at the meeting voiced the
logic that Game Commission officials fear will catch on regarding
wild hogs. “Hogs might give us something to hunt when there are no
deer,” he said sarcastically. “Hogs and deer seem to get along
pretty well – they don’t seem to have any problems in other
states.”

But actually, in other states where wild hog populations are
well established, real problems do exist. The state of Texas spends
in excess of $1 million a year killing them – sometimes shooting
from helicopters – and trying to limit hog damage. But hog hunting
in Texas, and in the state of Florida, rivals deer hunting as the
most popular hunting of all.

The state of Kansas has outlawed all wild hog hunting, shooting
and harvesting in an effort to quash the growth of a hog-hunting
culture.

Before allowing hog hunting here, commissioners are hoping the
U.S. Department of Agriculture might continue a trapping program
designed to wipe out the feral pig population. But despite an
estimated 1,000 wild hogs in the state – they are believed to be
breeding in at least several counties – USDA officials recently
revealed that they trapped just 36 last year.

And commissioners lamented that they had been told that the
funding for the trapping program had dried up. Pennsylvania is the
number 12 pork-producing state, and domestic pork producers fear
that feral hogs will spread diseases such as brucellosis and
seudorabies to their more than 1 million domestic hogs.

A group representing Pennsylvania hog producers helped fund the
year-long USDA trapping effort, and Commissioner Roxane Palone, of
Greene County, said she hoped partners such as that group might
contribute to continued trapping efforts.

The commissioners admitted they were just trying to get their
arms around regulating wild hogs. “This got dumped in our lap,”
said Schleiden.

“In the past we just allowed people to shoot them at will, but
now that they are protected mammals, that just won’t fly anymore,”
Palone said.

Pennsylvania maybe at a crossroads in its battle to eliminate
feral pigs, Dr. Cottrell admitted. “Experience in other states
suggests there is a point of no return,” he said. A few months ago,
Cottrell said, given the experience of other states, he was not
optimistic about the Keystone State ever getting rid of hogs.

Cottrell noted that in northern latitudes, feral pigs breed just
once a year, so their populations don’t expands as quickly as in
the South. “But the females breed at 14 months of age, they have
four to six in a litter, and the survival of the young is very
high,” he said.

Dr. Cottrell urged commissioners “to follow the Kansas model,
which totally eliminates the profit motive.” That would include
Pennsylvania allowing no more imports of wild boars by hunting
preserves, requiring preserves to establish better security, ban
guided hunting for hogs, and mandate disease checking.

Cottrell proposed the commission set up a check system for
hunter-killed hogs similar to what is now done for bears, where
blood samples will be taken from the dead animals to be tested for
diseases.

But Commissioner Tom Boop, of Northumberland County, worried
that the commission might be doing the wrong thing. “Should we, in
effect, be elevating a pest animal to the status of a game animal?”
he said. ”Pennsylvania hunters drive hundreds of miles to hunt wild
hogs. If possible, I think it would be better to quietly trap
them.”

Cottrell seemed to take a more pragmatic approach. “We are
giving hunters the opportunity to do something good for the
environment at the cost of one shell and the time it takes to take
the animal to a check station.”

Categories: News Archive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *