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State Lawmakers Want to Keep Wild Boar in Hunters' Crosshairs

One man's nuisance is another man's meal: a tussle over who should regulate wild hogs in the commonwealth is prompting legislation — and a few jokes.

Wild boar hunts at any of the roughly 20 wild boar game preserves throughout the commonwealth can run several hundred dollars apiece — and more when hunters actually bag a boar. It's the kind of economic activity that state lawmakers are trying to protect with legislation that would preempt a move to ban the wild hogs.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is in the process of passing a ban on owning, importing or setting free wild boar in the commonwealth. It's free to make such a move because of a Supreme Court decision that put the hogs under the jurisdiction of the commission, instead of the Department of Agriculture, which regulated the animals before 2007.

Joe Neville, head of the commission's Bureau of Information and Education, said his agency is just trying to avoid what's been a problem in other states: feral swine that get loose and wreak havoc on the landscape.

"They can cause a lot of damage to both wildlife and habitats, damage to crops," Neville said. "If anyone owns the hogs, even if they're behind a fence, they can escape — you know, trees fall in storms, these animals dig under the fences, so there is a potential for escape and we see that as problematic."

Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga), sponsor of a House proposal trying to keep wild pig preserves open, said he thinks escapes from game preserves are rare, though he allows it's important to keep the boars well-fenced.

"I think they do breed two or three times a year and... their litters can be pretty extensive," Baker said. "They can do some damage if they are free-roaming. So it's important that they be regulated."

Baker thinks the Department of Agriculture would do a fine job of regulating the animals in captivity and on the lam. But his measure barely passed the state House - something he chalked up to confusion over the bill. It was supported by the National Rifle Association but opposed by another sportsman group, as well as the Humane Society of Pennsylvania.

The issue recently became a punch line for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, who has legislation that would protect two pig hunting preserves in his district. He pointed to his bill, which passed in the Senate but has stalled in the House, as an example of a particularly slow-moving Legislature.

"Just give me a feral swine bill," Scarnati said to a laughing audience at a recent event in Harrisburg. "That's all I want, OK?"