Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
So-called "canned hunts" of wild hogs aren't coming to an end in Pennsylvania, due to a new state law signed by the governor last month.
You might say state lawmakers came to the rescue of the roughly 20 wild boar hunting preserves in Pennsylvania - they passed a law taking away the state Game Commission's regulatory authority over the animals.
The agency had been trying to establish a statewide prohibition of feral swine, which have been known to rip up wild habitats and farmland and have been difficult to eradicate after they escape fenced-in preserves.
"They're pretty intelligent animals, they're awful hard to pattern," said Cal DuBrock, with the commission's Bureau of Wildlife Management. "As you put pressure on them, they tend to disperse. So it's quite a challenge, actually, to gain control over them once they become established on the landscape."
The new state law puts the boars under the regulatory purview of the state Department of Agriculture, which has none of the hostile history with boar hunting preserves.
Chief among the bill's supporters is Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), who said he has two wild boar hunting preserves in his district. He said in April the Game Commission shouldn't be able to shut down hunting preserves that create jobs.
"These are good, hardworking individuals," said Scarnati. "All of a sudden the state government was going to say, 'Sorry, you're out of business.'"
DuBrock said the Game Commission is in discussions with the Department of Agriculture about how to regulate the feral swine behind fences without banning them altogether.
But the effort to eradicate wild-roaming boars continues. "As an agency, the Game Commission's still responsible for swine outside of fences," said DuBrock.
Pennsylvania's new law is already causing concern among wildlife officials in New York state, where a blanket ban against feral swine preserves was recently passed. DuBrock said some of the state's boar preserves aren't too far from the state line.
"They're concerned that they've done the steps they can," said DuBrock, "and the swine aren't going to honor their boundaries and [will] wander into New York as well."
He said over the past decade, he's heard of a "nominal" number of boar escapes in Pennsylvania, with the most perennial problems in Fulton and Bedford counties.
Feral swine, described by the Game Commission as prolific breeders, will now be required to be sterilized before their release, according to the new law. It is silent on penalties for allowing swine to escape before they are sterilized. But even if any escaped swine are unable to procreate from now on, DuBrock said the problem posed by renegade hogs isn't solved.
"When they escape, they still destroy habitat - they still alter habitat and they cause a lot of damage, and that's of concern to us too," he said. "So we're just going to make the best we can of the situation we're dealing with."
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