California feral hog bill opposes hunting organizations

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A bill making its way through the California Legislature would make it easier for landowners and hunters to kill feral pigs that damage farmland.

However, hunting associations are lining up to fight Senate Bill 856written by Democratic Napa Senator Bill Dodd.

The bill encapsulates longstanding contradictions in California’s handling of destructive feral hogs that have invaded 56 of California’s 58 counties.

Feral hogs — an invasive species not native to California that lives almost entirely on private farmland — are despised by vineyard owners and other farmers for the damage the voracious, rooting animals cause to their properties and crops. Feral pigs are estimated to cause at least $2 million in crop damage in California each year.

At the same time, wild pigs are prized by California big game hunters, who routinely pay outfitters nearly $1,000 to kill a single pig.

As it stands, the California Wildlife Agency classifies feral pigs the same way it does deer, elk and bears. Hunters are required to have a hunting license and they must purchase a state permit called a “tag” to kill a hog. Similarly, landowners are required to obtain state permission to kill feral hogs that damage their land by obtaining what is known as a “Pillage Permit” issued by the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. wildlife.

Killing a pig without a license and tag or depredation permit is punishable by a misdemeanor charge that can result in thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.

Dodd’s bill would reclassify pigs from a protected game animal to an “exotic” species that is not as intensely regulated. Landowners, their employees and others to whom they give written permission would be allowed to kill destructive hogs without a permit.

Among other changes to the law under Dodd’s bill, landowners could shoot hogs, which are most active after dark, at night using lights. This method is currently illegal for big game hunting.

The bill would also make it cheaper for non-owners hoping to catch a hog. At present, it costs $25.10 for a California resident buy a pig tag to kill a single pig.

Under Dodd’s bill, a hog hunter could purchase an annual $15 hog “validation” that would allow him to kill multiple hogs without buying a tag for each animal. The number of animals killed per validation would be determined by the California Fish and Game Commission.

“We are on the verge of controlling these destructive, non-native animals, which endanger habitats, farms and other sensitive animals,” Dodd said. said in a written statement earlier this month after the bill cleared its first committee. “Thank you to my colleagues for recognizing the threat of feral pigs to our state and doing something about it. We need to increase opportunities to hunt them so we can control our pig population.”

Why Hunters Oppose the Wild Hog Bill

So why are hunters opposed to a bill that would make it cheaper and potentially easier for them to kill pigs?

On the one hand, fewer pigs in the landscape would mean fewer hunting opportunities. On the other hand, if landowners are allowed to kill hogs without the need for state licenses and permits, it could deprive of business a group of influential hunting outfitters who make a living by bringing in clients to slaughter. pigs on private land under the very current regime. regulated system.

Dodd’s bill also includes a ban on the controversial practice of hog hunting in fenced reserves. California has a few of these “high fence” hunting ranches scattered throughout the state.

Hunting from heights is despised by animal welfare activists, who loudly call the practice “canned hunting”. High fence hunting is controversial even among hunters, some of whom question the ethics of paying to shoot animals unable to escape confinement.

California hunting associations, however, say these preserves provide “fair” hunts that serve an important function.

“These hunts provide an opportunity for many, including our most deserving wounded warriors, those with special needs, the elderly and young people who are physically unable to handle traditional hunts,” a group of 10 hunting associations and of firearms. written in a letter of opposition.

Opponents of Dodd’s bill warn that a ban on high-fence hog hunting would set a precedent that animal rights activists could exploit in future laws.

Hunters are also concerned about the reduction in fees that hunters pay to the state. In 2021, pork tags generated $876,058 in revenue for the Big Game Management Account of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the funds of which are used for habitat restoration projects for a number of different species.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should be. A similar bill introduced in 2018 failed to pass.

When did wild pigs come to California?

California’s feral pig infestation has been going on for centuries.

In the 1700s, the farm pigs of Spanish settlers first escaped into the wild. In the 1920s, a landowner in Monterey County released European boars into the hills. European pig subspecies have long snouts, pointed, protruding tusks, and the “razor sharp” look that trophy hunters find attractive.

After a century of interbreeding, California feral pigs now share characteristics of both pig varieties.

California has the fourth largest feral pig population in the country behind Texas, Florida and Georgia.

California hunters report killing fewer than 5,000 feral pigs each year, a fraction of the state’s feral pig population estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000 animals.

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Ryan Sabalow covers environmental, general news, and corporate and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. Before joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter for The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.

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