At least two Oklahoma wildlife commissioners are speaking out against a bill aimed at eradicating feral hogs in Oklahoma.
Senate Bill 1142 would allow for hunting wild pigs with spotlights at night without a hunting license, but those who oppose it say landowners can already do that by getting a permit from their game warden.
It’s estimated there are 1.6 million feral hogs in Oklahoma, they’re in every county and cause more than a billion dollars damages each year. The USDA’s Oklahoma Director of Wildlife Services, Kevin Grant, said feral hogs are the most prolific large mammals on the planet and they’re not native to the Americas.
“They're an ecological disaster, they don't belong out in the wild,” Grant said.
There's no arguing wild pigs need to be eradicated, but there’s trouble in agreeing on the best way to go about it.
We contacted the 11 lawmakers who authored and co-authored SB 1142, only three had responded at the time this report was filed. The legislators we spoke with said changing the hog hunting laws to allow nighttime hunting on both private and public land will help greatly.
“We have got to get rid of these things,” Rep. Steve Vaughan said. “A lot of farmers, the values of their farms have gone down.”
Oklahoma Wildlife officials said shooting hogs won't do anything to solve the problem.
“That just spreads your hogs around in places that they're not already,” wildlife commissioner Bruce Mabrey said.
Mabrey and wildlife commissioner Danny Robbins are vocal critics of the bill. They said it will open the door for deer poachers and essentially shut game wardens off from doing their jobs effectively.
“I can’t think of one good logical reason for this bill,” Robbins said. “It just gives poachers a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m sure they’re jumping for joy over this bill.”
Because the legislation allows hog hunting without a license, Robbins said deer poachers would simply be able to claim they’re hog hunting, if approached by a game warden during deer season. The only way a spotlighting deer poacher could be prosecuted is if they’re caught with a deer carcass in their possession, Robbins said.
“They [poachers] can go out anytime with whatever weapon they want and go hog hunting and it's hard for game wardens to distinguish between somebody that's actually out there hunting and somebody that might be out there wanting to poach,” Mabrey said.
Vaughan, who is the chairman of the wildlife committee, said he doesn’t believe the legislation will increase poaching - a problem that already exists in Oklahoma.
“You know, if you're looking for an excuse to be illegal, I can't stop that,” Vaughan said.
Game wardens, and many hunters, say they’re concerned about the safety aspect, especially when it comes to spotlighting hogs on public land.
Vaughan said he typically hunts his private farm but has hunted public land in the past.
“Hunting on public land, it's actually a very scary situation. I know those things can happen, and I pray to God above it doesn't,” Vaughan said. “There's everything that we could say that might happen, but there is the point of, what do we do if we don't?”
Biologists estimate hunting hogs with a rifle can kill five percent of the population, but research says a hunter would need to shoot 70 percent of the population just to keep it from growing.
USDA research shows trapping hogs is the most effective way of reducing the population because you can capture an entire family at ones.
Grant said shooting wild pigs can help, but to make a real dint in the population, ground hunting would be coupled with trapping and aerial control.
“No matter what you do, there's pluses and minuses to every one of those methods,” Grant said. You cannot put all your eggs into one basket, so to speak. You have to use multiple methods for cumulative effect.”
When we reached out to lawmakers we asked which, if any, wildlife experts were consulted about the effectiveness of the legislation.
Vaughan said experts don’t necessarily mean someone with a degree. He said the people of Oklahoma, the farmers who are dealing with horrible financial losses due to feral swine, are the experts.
State Senator Kyle Loveless said he spoke with “our wildlife people,” agencies in other states and the farm bureau. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife and Conservation said it’s also against the bill.
Loveless said it should be legal to hunt hogs any time, with no licenses or permitting required, like hunting a rat or squirrel, he said. When the reporter told Loveless there’s squirrel season in Oklahoma that requires a license, he said he wasn’t aware of that and said, “that’s silly, in my opinion.”
The USDA says historically, hunting is part of the reason why the hog population started to grow in the Oklahoma.
“Before there were any regulations on feral swine, a lot of feral swine were transported and released for hunting purpose,” Grant said.
It’s now a felony to transport hogs for the purpose of hunting, unless licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forest, but it still happens.
“They're kind of a poor man's grizzly bear, a lot of people for the trophy aspect, or the sport aspect, like to pursue them,” Grant said.
Senate Bill 1142 passed 40-0, but it was pulled from the governor's desk last week because of a mistake with the bill's language that made bowfishing and gigging at night illegal.
Once the language is corrected, it will have to pass in the Senate again.
“Hopefully, the Senate will focus on the $1.3 billion deficit instead of creating a wildlife law enforcement nightmare,” Robbins said.