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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wild Pigs -- Are They Here?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 19, 2011.)

When pigs feed in an area, they
leave it looking like a plowed field.
I’ve heard reports of feral swine in New York’s nearby Allegany State Park. I’ve also heard rumors of them in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, but I doubt those rumors are true. They’re likely due to word-of-mouth confusion between the Allegany State Park and the Allegheny National Forest. (They’re not the same – note that they’re even spelled differently.)

Feral swine, or wild boars (they’re called “boars” regardless of gender), are definitely in Pennsylvania. No one knows specifically where they came from, but they’re probably escapees from fenced hunting operations, or they may have been deliberately released.

They didn’t arrive through normal expansion of territory – if that were true states adjacent to Pennsylvania would have a greater population, and that’s not the case. Some neighboring states have a few, but they’re not spreading across borders. (Interestingly, I haven’t heard anyone accuse the Pennsylvania Game Commission of stocking them, though people continue to falsely allege that the PGC stocked coyotes.)

The fact is that it’s illegal to release any member of the pig family to roam free. Wild boars are wild, for sure, but they’re no friend of wildlife. They’re a non-native, invasive species. They’re extremely destructive to both wildlife and domestic livestock. Their presence is a threat that takes many forms.

As of yet, no feral swine in Pennsylvania has tested positive for any infectious diseases, but they are known to harbor 18 viral diseases (10 can infect people), and 10 bacterial diseases (all are contagious to humans). Some of the diseases can be fatal to wildlife. Feral swine carry numerous parasites that can affect pets and livestock, too.

Besides carrying diseases, feral swine routinely destroy vital wildlife habitat by rooting and wallowing. When pigs feed in an area, they leave it looking like a plowed field, eliminating native plant populations and causing erosion.

Wild boars will compete for food with deer, bears, turkeys and small game, and destroy nesting sites of turtles, turkeys, grouse and songbirds. They will prey on small animals and deer fawns. They are very aggressive and will eat virtually anything.

Adult wild boars usually weigh between 100 and 200 pounds, though they can exceed 400 pounds. They’re very prolific and can breed at 8 months, producing litters of 8 to 12 young. Piglets can begin rooting within a few days of birth. Pigs traveling in groups (called sounders) can number more than 20.

If a feral swine population becomes permanent, it will create additional health and habitat concerns. They will come into conflict with people. They will threaten crops and livestock production. An established population will degrade the forests of Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, any member of the pig family (suidae) that roams freely on public or private land is considered a feral swine.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in a 2007 case called Seeton vs. PGC, declared feral swine in Pennsylvania to be under the jurisdiction of the Game Commission. However, the PGC (by its authorization under the Game Code) has removed protection almost everywhere in the state. The only exceptions are areas where PGC is making efforts to eradicate them by trapping. Hunting them in those areas is illegal because it’s likely to disperse them, interfering with trapping eradication efforts.

Currently, the only county that has an active trapping program is Bedford in southcentral Pennsylvania. So, outside of Bedford County, if you’re a licensed hunter and you see one during your treks in the woods this spring, don’t hesitate to shoot it. Take the precaution of handling it with latex gloves.

Then report it to the Game Commission regional office within 24 hours. Eradication is the goal, and the more information the PGC has, the more likely we will reach that goal.

Licensed hunters may now shoot feral swine anywhere in the state, but anyone shooting a wild pig must still report the kill.


HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced he has lifted protection on feral swine in Bedford County and has issued an updated executive order to allow for the incidental taking of feral swine statewide by licensed hunters.

“This decision to lift protection in Bedford County is based on the need to continue to take feral swine in this area, and we have not identified opportunities for trapping in this area,” Roe said. “Should trapping opportunities arise, we will reinstate the restrictions on swine hunting in particular areas of interest since trapping is the most effective way to remove feral swine from the wild and to limit their dispersal into new areas.”

A survey of Game Commission staff completed last year indicated fewer sightings of feral swine compared to the survey completed in 2006. In 2008, five counties were identified to retain protection so that hunters would not interfere with trapping operations that were ongoing. In 2009, restrictions were lifted in four counties leaving only Bedford County where trapping operations were ongoing.

The Game Commission has determined that the eradication of feral swine from Pennsylvania is necessary to prevent further harm to public and private property, threats to native wildlife and disease risks for wildlife and the state’s pork industry. The agency is not seeking to establish a hunting season, but is committed to rid Pennsylvania of this invasive species.

Roe noted that the Game Commission has a “Feral Swine” section on its website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), which can be accessed by putting your cursor on the “Hunt/Trap” tab in the menu bar at the top of the homepage and then click on “Feral Swine” from the drop-down menu listing. The site includes links to the executive order, the current news release regarding feral swine and a brochure.

Licensed hunters, including those who qualify for license and fee exemptions, are eligible to participate in the unlimited incidental taking of feral swine. Hunters may use manually-operated rifles, revolvers or shotguns, as well as muzzleloaders, bows and crossbows. All other methods and devices legal for taking feral swine must be conducted and/or used in compliance with the provisions of Section 2308 of Title 34 (Game and Wildlife Code), which can be viewed on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by putting your cursor on the “The Law” tab in the menu bar at the top of the homepage and then click on “Title 34: Game and Wildlife Code.”

Additionally, the agency may issue permits to authorize individuals to engage in feral swine trapping operations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. Feral swine trapping, by permitted individuals, will only be allowed from the close of the flintlock muzzleloading season in mid-January to the beginning of spring gobbler season, and from the end of spring gobbler season until the beginning of archery deer season.

Any person who kills a feral swine must report it to the Game Commission Region Office that serves the county in which the harvest took place within 24 hours. The swine carcass must then be made available to agency personnel, who will gather samples to monitor for the presence of disease.

Roe encouraged residents who witness feral swine to also contact the Region Office that serves their county. For contact information, as well as list of counties that each region office serves, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor on “About Us” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage and click on “Regional Information” in the drop-down menu listing.

Nearly 25 states across the nation have persistent and possibly permanent populations of feral swine established in the wild, and Pennsylvania is one of 16 states where introduction is more recent and may still be countered through decisive eradication efforts.

Feral swine have been declared to be an injurious, non-native, invasive species of concern in Pennsylvania that are suspected to have been introduced into the wilds of this Commonwealth through a variety of means, including both intentional and unintentional releases. Feral swine also have been determined to pose a significant, imminent and unacceptable threat to this Commonwealth’s natural resources, including wildlife and its habitats; the agricultural industry, including crop and livestock production; the forest products industry; and human health and safety.

The Game and Wildlife Code (Title 34) and agency regulations (Title 58) provide broad authority to the Game Commission to regulate activities relating to the protection, preservation and management of all game and wildlife. The agency was declared to have jurisdiction over matters relating to feral swine by the state Supreme Court in Seeton v. PGC. In its decision, handed down on Dec. 27, 2007, the Supreme Court declared feral swine to be “protected mammals,” and, as a consequence, feral swine could only be taken as authorized by the agency.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Everyday Hunter’s Gobbler Geek Test

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 5, 2011.)

At a job interview, you stipulate right up front
that any job you take has to be flexible enough
to let you hunt until noon during May.
Gobblers have been sounding off for weeks now, and even though we’re still almost two months from the spring turkey season, opening day will be here before you know it. It will pay to be ready.

To get ready every hunter has his own routines. Yours might be to leave early for work, and stop at key places to listen for gobblers sounding off at sunrise. Or you might take the long way home and drive on country roads, scanning fields for flocks of turkeys that are attracted to the farmer’s manure spreader like bees to clover.

You might be touching bases with property owners to make sure their permission is still good. You’re probably getting into the woods to see what changes the winter has brought, or where loggers have been working, or where turkeys are feeding.

Without a doubt, preparation for spring gobbler season includes daydreaming about the gobblers you have known. It doesn’t matter whether you got the best of them, or they got the best of you. But you think mostly about that second group – so you won’t make the same mistakes next time.

Serious turkey hunters do those things, but maybe you’ve gone beyond all that. If so, you’re probably a gobbler “geek.” Geeks aren’t just nerdy computer guys. Every endeavor has its own geeks – yes, turkey hunting can be an obsession.

Do people think you’re obsessed with turkeys, maybe even a little odd? Maybe they’re right. To help you find out, I’ve devised a little test. If more than two or three of these are true of you, you’re probably a gobbler geek.

1. You use only three or four turkey calls, but you have several dozen, and it’s not nearly enough.

2. You’ve designed and built at least one turkey call – and even if gobblers don’t respond to it, you figure someday one might.

3. In the weeks leading up to turkey season, you’d rather lose your wallet than your diaphragm calls.

4. If your house is on fire, your collection of turkey beards and spurs is the first thing you’d rescue.

5. You relate everything you do to some aspect of turkey hunting. Examples: Shopping for a new truck is like scouting for turkeys. Asking your boss for a raise is like calling in a gobbler. Waiting for your kids to come home at night is like calling in a gobbler that’s “hung up.”

6. Most of the pages saved on your computer are turkey hunting and topo map websites.

7. At a job interview, you stipulate right up front that any job you take has to be flexible enough to let you hunt until noon during May.

8. You think the naked, rubbery, warty, red, white and blue head of a wild turkey gobbler is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen – next to your wife, of course.

9. You don’t understand why your wife doesn’t appreciate the comparison of her beauty to a gobbler’s naked, rubbery, warty, red, white and blue head – and you probably never will.

10. You call spring gobbler season “widow-making season.” So does your wife. She doesn’t mean exactly what you mean – but she means it just as literally, so watch out!