PGC is on the verge of banning wild hogs

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Game Commission officials have long wanted to get rid of any wild hogs roaming the state’s woodlands.

Now, though, they’re preparing to take things a step further. They’re taking aim at all feral swine, those outside fences as well as those inside them.

The agency is preparing to move forward with regulations that would remove protection from the animals statewide and, most notably, ban their importation, possession and release into the wild.

“This is major. There will be no more feral swine canned hunts in Pennsylvania,” said Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County.

Commission Executive Director Carl Roe proposed that very idea this past spring in an executive order. It went out for public comment and generated quite a bit, most of it from the owners of hunting preserves.

Several turned out at a public commission meeting to say that wild boars are an important economic commodity, especially in the off-season when deer are not the main quarry. Then, hogs become their biggest draw, they said.

Commission staff argued that those concerns don’t outweigh the risk boars present, though.

“Feral swine are not native to Pennsylvania and present many problems to wildlife and people,” reads the commission’s official position statement on hogs. “They can cause tremendous damage to habitat and property, and pose an ever-present threat to wildlife and the biosecurity of the state’s multi-million-dollar pork industry.

“Pennsylvania would be a better place without these swine, and the Game Commission is committed to their eradication.”

Other states have long struggled with wild hogs.

In Texas, home to perhaps the country’s largest population of boars, hogs are a huge issue, according to a recent story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That story cited a 2004 survey estimating that hogs cause an estimated $52 million in damage annually to the state’s agriculture.

It also said another report determined Texas would need to eradicate 66 percent of its feral hogs annually to keep the population under control. In 2010, only about 29 percent of the state’s estimated 2.6 million feral hogs were killed.

Here in the east, a look at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation makes it clear that state considers hogs a huge threat. Its website outlines a laundry list of problems with the pigs.

Biologists there say they eat hard mast (acorns and other nuts) and directly compete with deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels and waterfowl for food; consume the nests and eggs of ground-nesting birds and reptiles; kill and eat fawns and young domestic livestock; eat almost any agricultural crop as well as tree seeds and seedlings.

They also root and wallow, in the process destroying crops and native vegetation, causing erosion, and negatively affecting water quality, and have razor sharp tusks and can be aggressive toward humans and their pets.

If all that’s not enough, New York officials say hogs can carry and can transmit several serious diseases including swine brucellosis, E. coli, trichinosis, and pseudorabies to livestock and  humans. Some of those diseases, if introduced to domestic swine, can decimate the pork industry, the New York agency contends.

In Pennsylvania, wild hogs – escapees from preserves – have been found in a number of counties already. They’re prolific breeders, capable of producing multiple litters or a half dozen or more piglets at a time.

The Game Commission wants to keep those hogs from getting established in the wild, which is why the regulations are being proposed, Roe said.

Defining what is a wild boar versus a feral swine or a pig “will become the challenge, to be very honest with you,” he conceded, given that the commission has jurisdiction over the former, the state Department of Agriculture jurisdiction over the latter. But he’s hoping common sense will come into play.

“Does it look like a domestic pig and is it behind a fence, or does it look like what’s been roaming the countryside the last couple of years, with hair and tusks? It’s the reasonable person approach,” Roe said.

The state is home to about 20 to 30 preserves that offer hog hunts, said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. Any ban on having the animals will likely be unpopular with them, he said.

“But we feel we have an obligation to take this first step,” Roe said.

Commissioners will have to approve any regulation banning hogs. Preliminary approval of those regulations – which could come as early as January – would have to be given final approval in April.

If that occurs, importation of hogs would be banned in July of 2013, and possession of them in July of 2014.

Commission President Ralph Martone, of New Castle, said it’s important the agency take these steps, especially as other states around Pennsylvania are going the same route.

“We don’t want to become the last center for these things,” he said.

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