About 25 states across the nation have major issues with feral, or wild, swine destroying their landscape.
Forests, farms and private lands can suffer from the damage. Feral swine, also called wild boar, will tear up fields, forests and orchards with their tusks and hooves.
Pennsylvania could join those states, Game Commission staff say, unless precautions are taken now.
A proposed law soon could allow hunters to shot the wild hogs as well as make it illegal for hunting preserves and game farms to even keep a wild boar in a fenced-in area.
Game Commission officials said they have no idea how many wild boars are loose in Pennsylvania.
"Most of them are behind a fence, in hunting or shooting operations, but occasionally we get notice that they are in the wild," said Joe Neville, director of the commission's Bureau of Information and Education.
The agency would like to eradicate the species in the wild.
The regulations the Game Commission plans to put in place also will affect any preserve or game farm that has swine.
In the wild, feral swine can been found in Bradford and Cambria counties and in small pockets in other counties, here and there, Neville said.
At the Game Commission's board meeting in January, commissioners discussed and preliminarily voted on removing feral swine and wild boar from the list of protected species.
That issue will come back up in April's meeting, when a final vote will be taken.
Neville said the Game Commission encourages hunters to shoot the hogs on the spot whenever they see them.
A push in the decision's direction came from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case in 2007 - Seeton vs. PGC - where the court declared the Game Commission had jurisdiction over matters relating to wild boars.
"The Game Commission views the complete eradication of feral swine and wild boar from the wild within Pennsylvania as a necessary step to prevent further harm to our natural resources, agricultural industry, forest products industry and threats to human health and safety," Carl G. Roe, agency executive director, said in a news release.
"The Game Commission previously (established) an executive order to remove protection for feral swine, and we've worked with the state and federal agriculture departments to trap and remove feral swine populations," Roe added.
Disease and damage
Feral swine have been known to transmit viral,
bacterial and parasitic diseases that can affect other wild animals as well as domesticated livestock and humans.
Neville said it's imperative that the agency gets control of the feral swine now - before they cause great damage to natural habitats and wildlife.
"Where we find them, we try to trap them out," he said of the commission.
The Game Commission has found and documented damage caused by feral swine.
Neville said they will eat just about anything, almost acting like a garbage disposal of nature. Roots, grains, seeds and even eggs, small mammals and ground-nesting birds can fall prey to the omnivorous mammals.
"We have seen damage where they are rooting around as they go through a field. It's very obvious they are there, as they tear things up as they look for food. Wildlife officers have documented that over the years," Neville said.
With the commission's order, licensed Pennsylvania hunters and trappers will be able to shoot an unlimited number of feral swine by firearm, bow or crossbow.
The order will define feral swine to include any animal that is a member of the family Suidae that is found roaming freely on public or private lands in Pennsylvania.
The animals are considered non-native, invasive species.
Domesticated swine that are commercially produced in an agricultural operation are not to be harvested by anyone.
Illegal to own
If the commission approves the regulation in April, live wild boars will be banned from importation into the state after 30 days have passed from the date of the vote.
One year after that, captive wild boars will not be allowed in the state. This means that hunting preserves will have to erase the animal from their lists of stocked game.
The public has a chance to voice their opinions at 1 p.m. April 14, when the board will hear public comment and agency staff reports before its April 15 meeting. Doors open at noon, and individuals may give their five minutes of testimony by registering on a first-come, first-to-speak basis.
Hunting preserves and game farms that own fenced-in acreage containing boars to be hunted by paying customers oppose the rule.
"Well, I think they are going about it all wrong," said Richard Ulmer, owner and operator of Straight Pine Elk and Deer, of Middleburg, who has wild boar on his preserve for hunting.
He doesn't disagree with the ban on the importation of the animals, but Ulmer said he raises his own anyway.
"I raise my own and I don't think it's a problem as long as you take care of your fences ... you can't let them get out," he said.
He feels like he is being lumped into a group of operators who let some wild boars out into the wild and started this problem.
He said he has 80 to 100 hogs at a time on his land.
"We are not under the ... Game Commission. We are under the Department of Ag(riculture), and I think this is none of their business," Ulmer said.
"We have given operators a timeframe to get rid of them (the wild boars)," Neville said. "We have been having discussions with them for about a year and half, so this was no surprise."
Under ag control
State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, plans to introduce legislation amending the Pennsylvania Game code to clarify wild boars and other variations or species of swine that are kept on game farms or hunting preserves, according to a document from Baker that defines the wild boar and regulations relations related to it.
In it, he said wild boars are not defined as "wild animals" under the current Game Code and therefore are not under the regulatory purview of the Game Commission.
Baker wants to add the language so the definition eliminates the variation of pig, swine or boar in captivity, making it the responsibility of the state Department of Agriculture.
The agriculture department regulates all other non-exotic animals held in captivity, including and not limited to deer, elk, stag and sheep.
"This proposed regulation, if put into place, would have a devastating effect on hunting preserves in our commonwealth," Baker said. "I believe my legislation would effectively take regulation of any swine, boar, etc. held in captivity away from the PGC, as such animals would no longer be considered 'wild animals,' thus allowing our hunting preserves to continue operating as they currently are."
"We do not regulate wild boar preserves. We do regulate deer preserves," Samantha Elliott Krepps, press secretary for the state Department of Agriculture, wrote in an emailed response for comment. "Some preserves may have wild boar, but since we do not have regulatory authority over wild boar, we do not track them."
'Just not right'
For Ulmer, elk is the main animal hunted at his business, closely followed by deer. But, during this time of year, it's the wild boar that is hunted the most.
"I don't know what I am going to do," he said. "I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference. They (the Game Commission) are going to do what they want anyways."
He feels the agency will drive operators such as himself out of business.
"They want to shoot all their deer off and are trying to put us out of business because we are taking their business. It's just not right to run us out of business because they can't run theirs," Ulmer said.
Mike Gee, owner-operator of Tioga Ranch in Tioga, refused to comment about the situation. Calls to Pipeline Ridge in Muncy and North Mountain Outfitters in Hughesville were not answered. All of their websites indicate that they have hogs on their properties for hunters to harvest.
If the wild boar population expands, it could have a detrimental effect on Pennsylvania's environment, Neville said.
"What we are trying to do is prevent this. Once a population gets going, it's very hard to control," he said.