Lawmakers enter boar preserve fray
HARRISBURG — Wild boar on Pennsylvania hunting preserves are at the center of a legal and legislative struggle that comes to a head next month.
It's an issue that pits animal rights activists and environmentalists against lawmakers and business owners who say the controlled hunts on fenced-in properties create jobs and boost rural economies. Some preserves charge a person $800 to $900 to hunt for sport.
State legislators are lined up to help owners of hunting preserves, who say a proposed Game Commission regulation requiring “eradication” of the swine threatens their livelihoods.
“Without the backing of this legislation, I'll be out of business,” said William Snyder, 45, owner of the Double Bore Ranch in Clarion County. “Ninety-eight percent of the hunts I conduct are with wild boar.”
“I would lose my farm and everything I've worked for,” said Larry Lint, owner of a 100-acre preserve in northern Butler County. “I live for this. I love the farming.”
The Game Commission on June 24 is set to approve a ban on wild boar within a year. Ruling in an animal rights lawsuit brought by Johnna Seeton of Dauphin County, the state Supreme Court in 2007 affirmed the commission's regulatory authority over boar on preserves.
“This is an invasive, feral species that doesn't belong in Pennsylvania,” said commission spokesman Joe Neville. “We say the safest thing to do is eradicate them.”
Yet it's likely lawmakers will pass a bill by the end of June that could make the commission's action moot. A Senate-approved bill is pending in the House; a House-passed bill sits in the Senate. The proposed legislation holds that boar in captivity aren't wild animals and therefore not subject to regulation.
The bill authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, may be the one that goes to Gov. Tom Corbett.
Animal protectionists want to end what they call “canned hunts.”
“Horrific cruelty has been uncovered at canned hunts, from doping of animals to make them exceptionally docile to an ‘anything goes' policy of allowing patrons to slowly maim and kill purchased animals using clubs, knives, or other inhumane means no ethical hunter would dream of employing,” said Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania director of the Humane Society of the United States.
Preserve owners say such activity isn't the practice here.
“I'm a hunter, and I try to create the most realistic hunting scenarios,” said Snyder. “There's nothing realistic about that.”
Speed contends such hunts “are barely regulated, and no government agency wants oversight.” The legislation exempts preserves from oversight, Speed said.
“It is imperative for public safety that these facilities are strictly regulated to prevent disease outbreaks, escapes, and enforce humane laws,” she said.
Scarnati aide Casey Long said the state Agriculture Department would oversee preserves under his bill, which Scarnati said he filed because two preserve owners in his district sought his help, to save jobs.
Pennsylvania is home to about 26 hunting preserves with wild boar, the Game Commission says.
The Department of Agriculture considers feral swine an “invasive species” and estimates 5 million hogs roam through 35 states.
They exist outside preserves in Pennsylvania, Neville said, though he can't estimate how many.
The hogs, weighing 300 pounds or more, can destroy pastures, crops, lawns and landscaping, according to the USDA. They can carry diseases and parasites.
In Butler County, Lint grows corn to feed his hogs. “It's like free-range organic pork,” he said.
His hunts at The Pig Farm draw customers from as far as New Mexico to bag boar. The swine he raises can't exist without human assistance, Lint said, and he keeps them inside a 10,000-volt electric fence.
“Every pig has been ear-tagged. Every pig has been castrated,” except for those used to breed, Lint said.
Lint said the hunts he sponsors help support a taxidermist, restaurant, hotel and grocery store nearby.
“I just want to farm and live my life,” he said. “They're backing us into a corner.”
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.