Are feral pigs private property, an invasive species or wildlife? The latter, says Pennsylvania's Supreme Court. Enthusiastic hog hunters must wait for boar season, whenever that may be.

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Feral Pigs: First Property, Then Scourge, Now ‘Wildlife’

wild pig thumbnailAre feral pigs private property, an invasive species or wildlife? The latter, says Pennsylvania's Supreme Court. Enthusiastic hog hunters must wait for boar season, whenever that may be.

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wild pig cube
Wild Boar Piglets Cubed
Photo: Janet Morrell

The most controversial figures in Pennsylvania these days aren't running for president, but for their lives. Feral pigs have become a nuisance — a hazard, some say — in the Keystone State, rooting up the land, attacking deer and out-competing native animals for food. One major concern is that the wild pig population could threaten Pennsylvania's $271 million domestic hog industry by infecting farm animals. (No wild pigs in Pennsylvania have yet been found to carry disease.)

But put away your rifle, for now anyway. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in December that feral hogs are "protected mammals." And until the state's Game Commission can draft regulations on wild boar hunting, shooting a feral pig is illegal.

Ironically, Pennsylvania's scourge of "wild" hogs was introduced by people — specifically, landowners who imported these animals to be hunted for sport on private property.

“We found it alarming, the amount of hunting preserves that are actually bringing these hogs into the state,” Harris Glass, told Joe Gorden of Johnstown's Tribune-Democrat. Glass, Pennsylvania's director of wildlife services, said the problem pigs escaped (or were intentionally released) from 15 game farms across the state. “Some of them actually advertise that there is no fence," he said. "Each of the five counties where we have confirmed feral hogs do have shooting preserves in them.””¨

wild boar huntWild boar hunt, Tioga, PA
Photo: Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve

Gorden explains that not only the importation of wild pigs for hunting but the act of hunting itself has exacerbated the problem. According to Glass, hunting disperses the feral hog herds. Initially state wildlife officials thought there were some 20-30 "pockets" of wild pigs in the state. But, "just in Cambria and Bedford counties, there were probably 200 hogs removed this past hunting season," Glass said. Larger hunting parties especially tend to drive the animals farther afield. "With that kind of pressure, they’ve moving up over the ridge and into the next valley," Glass explained. "They are intelligent animals. They will avoid people. They’re able to continue breeding, so as they spread and go into new areas, their population keeps growing and it gets harder to get a handle on things.”

Until the December court ruling, wild hogs were considered private property and killing them was unregulated. Christian Berg of the Allentown's Morning Call spells out details of the court case, initiated against the state in 2004 for failing to enforce game code regulations on a 1500-acre hunting preserve along the New York border. While hunters want to designate Sus scrofa as private property and the Supreme Court calls them "wildlife, " the Pennsylvania Invasive Species Council has another designation for them: "invasives." That's a lot of titles for anybody, especially an unwittingly imported hooved animal.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state troubled by wild pigs. Missouri's Conservation Department apparently recommends "shoot on sight." Kansas, taking another tack, has banned hunting wild pigs altogether. But in Florida and South Texas, Harris Glass notes, "there is a whole culture built around hog hunting. If we get to that point in Pennsylvania, we are just not going to be able to stop it."

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners is likely to discuss establishing a feral hog season at its next meeting, January 29.

 

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