Feral hog bill aims at source of swine

Albany — State and federal officials maintain that the key to making progress in the battle to keep feral hogs from overrunning the New York landscape is to halt the source of the swine – primarily believed to be captive facilities from which the pigs are known to escape.

Now, they’re a stroke of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pen away from doing just that.

State lawmakers in the final days of the 2013 legislative session approved a bill that will prohibit the possession, sale, distribution or transportation of Eurasian boars effective Sept. 1, 2015.

The bill – A3767 and its Senate companion, S5733 – authorizes the DEC to adopt regulations to implement and administer the laws.

It also immediately bans the importation, breeding or release into the wild of Eurasian boars.

It’s seen as a major step in addressing the growing problem of feral swine in the wild, but also is potentially crippling to hunting preserves that rely on the low-cost boar hunts as the backbone of their business.

“It’s a working man’s hunt,” said Russ Jones, who operates Jonesey’s Riverside Ranch, a fenced hunting preserve in Ogdensburg (St. Lawrence County). “You can get a 200-pound boar for $500. You’re basically buying meat and having the fun of harvesting it yourself. A $5,000 elk hunt is a whole different ballgame.”

But the legislation was prompted by increasing numbers of the prolific pigs in the wild – often in the areas where shooting preserves or breeding facilities that house Eurasian boar are located.

A 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture study on feral swine in New York said “breeding populations are thought to be the result of escaped swine” from those facilities.

Jones doesn’t disagree with that assessment.

“You can’t hold ’em,” he said of the powerful Eurasian boars. “You can bury your fence, whatever, but they will escape. I’ve lost two since I’ve been doing this; one got hit by a car and the other we got after and shot right away.”

Jones says the key to his success in keeping the boars within the confines of his fencing has been to delay their release until the day or the hunt, “or maybe the night before.”

Elsewhere around the state, feral swine are a growing – and multiplying – problem. Hot spots where breeding colonies have been established in the wild include areas of Onondaga, Cortland, Sullivan, Clinton, Tioga and Delaware counties. A USDA report says that “once established, feral swine populations are difficult to eliminate.”

That same report called for legislation targetting the source of the feral hogs.

“Escape of swine from shooting preserves, breeding facilities and intentional releases of swine by hunters interested in pursuing them in New York are factors that need to be addressed of the elimination efforts in the state are to be successful,” the report read. “With proper legislation in place… elimination is a feasible goal for New York state.”

Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, sponsored S5733, which passed by a 61-1 margin.

“When we talk about invasive species, feral swine isn’t what comes to the minds of most people first,” Little said. “But these are very destructive animals that can cause a lot of problems are be very difficult to control.”

Feral swine compete with wildlife species, including deer and turkeys, for mast crops such as acorns and beechnuts. Their wallowing and foraging behavior also destroys crops and damages wetlands.

The hogs can also carry parasites and diseases that can be transmitted to livestock.

A3767, which passed by a vote of 136-5, was sponsored by Manhattan Democrat Deborah Glick.

The legislation also provides a definition of “Eurasian boar” that will exclude domestic pigs.  Fines for violations of the law are $500 for the first two offenses, and $1,000 or more for subsequent violations.

The legislation was supported by numerous organizations, including the Northeast Organic Farming Association, The Nature Conservancy and Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Jones said he saw the writing on the wall and began preparing for the legislation’s approval by whittling down his boar numbers from 100 to about 50 currently. “I might just slaughter all the ones I got,” he said. “I knew this was swirling around and might get passed.”

Neighboring states are also grappling with the spread of Eurasian hogs in the wild. In Pennsylvania, that state’s Board of Game Commissioners last month tabled a proposed regulation prohibiting their import, possession and release into the wild.

That move came in the wake of Gov. Tom Corbett’s signing into law legislation that gives management authority over all captive hogs to the state Department of Agriculture.

It includes a provision that any male swine within a captive facility such as a hunting preserve be first sterilized.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe, “feral means outside the fence. We still want them all killed.” All licensed hunters in Pennsylvania are allowed kill free-roaming wild boar and feral swine outside fences on sight, using any legal hunting weapon, under a 2011 order signed by Roe.

New York hunters can also take feral hogs in the wild at any time, but DEC officials have urged sportsmen to avoid pursuing hogs specifically, fearing hunting pressure will scatter the pigs into other areas where they’ll establish additional breeding colonies.

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