Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pennsylvania Legislature might get involved in hog hunting

By Bob Frye

This has been like a riddle with no answer. What makes a wild hog wild?
There's been no clear definition, but that might be changing.

State lawmakers this past week advanced two bills that would redefine the term “wild animals” to exclude boars and hogs. Senate bill 644 and House Bill 723 moved through the two chambers' respective game and fisheries committees.

They would essentially make hogs behind fences — for the sake of shooting preserves — livestock rather than wildlife and would take responsibility for their management away from the Game Commission.

Lawmakers are pushing the issue because the Game Commission has been preparing to put hog-hunting operations out of business.

In April, the agency's board is expected to give final approval to regulations that would “remove protection for feral swine and wild boar statewide, wherever found, in order to protect the natural resources of the Commonwealth, its traditional agricultural and forest products industries and mitigate threats to human health and safety.”

The new rules also would prohibit the importation, possession and release into the wild of feral swine and wild boar.

The intent is to get rid of hog-hunting operations which have, in some instances, lost animals into the wild, where they become destructive nuisances.

An undetermined number of hogs already are in the wild in Pennsylvania, having originated from escaped or released pen-raised boards, commission officials have said.
The idea of doing away with fenced hog hunting is too extreme given that such escapes are “very sporadic, transitory and rare,” though, said Rep. Matt Baker, the Tioga County Republican behind House Bill 723.

His bill is meant as a compromise, he said.

“I think this brings a balance to properly regulating these animals while at the same time allowing these hunting preserves to have these animals in their midst for hunting,” Baker said.

The Game Commission is glad to finally be getting a definition of what is and isn't a wild hog, said board member Ralph Martone of New Castle.

But that likely won't stop it from acting on its proposed bans, he added.

Baker said his bill, as well as the one sponsored by the politically powerful Sen. Joseph Scarnatti, has been discussed with the legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett's office. He said he's optimistic one or both will pass this legislative session.


The legislature's involvement in the wild hog issue isn't going unnoticed.
Two organizations coming at the issue from different perspectives have already weighed in.
The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs — which has supported Game Commission efforts to get rid of hogs — has been suggesting that sportsmen contact their legislators and ask them to consider “the consequences of allowing unregulated (hog hunting) operations.”
“A similar scenario took place a few years ago, when the legislature removed farmed deer and elk from the PGC's purview. We are now dealing with CWD in our borders, and a barely regulated industry. (The Department of Agriculture) does not have the manpower, finances or fortitude to provide the proper oversight on these operations,” an email said.

The Humane Society of the United States, which opposes all “canned hunts” within a fence on principle, has also been critical of efforts to take the job of managing hogs away from the Game Commission.
“Politics should not trump sound scientific wildlife management decisions,” it said in a news release.

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