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Feral hogs will be trouble in the wild

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pennsylvania hunters are going to be asked to do a job that none of their counterparts anywhere else in the country have been able to tackle: control feral hogs that escape into the wild.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners months ago proposed regulations to prohibit their “importation, possession and release into the wild,” and were set to vote on them at their recent meeting. The idea was to cut wild hogs — which to date in Pennsylvania have always originated as escapees from hunting preserves — off at the source.

Commissioners tabled their idea, though, after Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill 644. It gives authority over hogs behind fences to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The law states that male hogs released into a preserve must be neutered. But there still will be problems in the wild like those seen elsewhere, predicted Johnna Seeton, the Legislative Animal Network officer whose lawsuit prompted the recent hog debate.

“I probably won't be around to see the degradation,” she said. “Many of our young people here will be.”

There are an estimated 5 million-plus hogs — which can reach 36 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 400 pounds — roaming across at least 35 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Texas has the most with about 2.6 million; Florida has 500,000-plus.

None of those states has been able to get rid of them.

In fact, though Texas spends upwards of $7 million on feral hog control each year, the population may triple within five years, predicts a Texas A&M University study released earlier this year. It would take killing two-thirds of the current population annually just to maintain herds at existing levels, it added.

Game Commission officials are still hoping to keep those kinds of populations from getting established here and competing with white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys and other species for food and space.

“We want them all killed,” executive director Carl Roe said.

A 2011 executive order that allows licensed hunters to kill free-roaming hogs outside of fences at any time using legal sporting arms remains in effect, said Rich Palmer, chief of the commission's bureau of wildlife protection.

Commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle said he hopes hunters will aggressively target feral hogs as opportunities arise because that's the best “solution for the time being,” he said.

“We're going to keep the pressure on any feral swine that escape and get outside a fence,” Martone said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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