Pennsylvania GC Removed Protection on Feral Swine

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At the unanimous direction of the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners, and in response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Carl G. Roe, agency executive director, issued an order removing protection on feral swine in 64 of the state's 67 counties. Counties where protection remains in effect are Butler, Bedford and Cambria counties.

"We are maintaining protection on feral swine in Butler, Bedford and Cambria counties to facilitate trapping by the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture," Roe said. "Trapping is the most effective way to remove feral swine from the wild, because it limits their dispersal into new areas. If funding is not available for trapping, we may consider lifting protection in these three counties, as well.

"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. We are not seeking to establish a hunting season, but we are committed to rid Pennsylvania of this invasive species."

Roe noted that the Game Commission has launched a "Feral Swine" section on its website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), and includes links to the executive order and a map delineating the counties in which feral swine may be taken incidental to other hunting seasons.

Licensed hunters, including those who qualify for license and fee exemptions, are eligible to participate in the unlimited incidental taking of feral swine. They may use manually-operated rifles, revolvers or shotguns, as well as and muzzleloaders, bows and crossbows. All other methods and devices legal for taking feral swine much be conducted in compliance with the provisions of Section 2308 of Title 34 (Game and Wildlife Code), which can be view on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) in the "Laws & Regulations" section in the left-hand column of the homepage.

Additionally, the agency may issue permits to authorize individuals to engage in feral swine trapping operations, including the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture. 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.

Roe noted that incidental taking of feral swine is permitted outside of trapping seasons in Bedford, Butler and Cambria counties.

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.

Roe encouraged residents who witness feral swine to 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), click on the "Contact Us" link in the left-hand column of the homepage and scroll down to "Region Offices."

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 new 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.

"A local farmer contacted me after he planted and re-planted a cornfield three times because feral swine were rooting up his corn," said Jonathan Zuck, Game Commission Land Management Group Supervisor for Bedford and Fulton counties. "The farmer told me he would rather have deer damaging his crops, because at least he would still get a stalk to harvest. The swine, on the other hand, root up the corn while it is still germinating leaving behind only dirt. I also had reports of the swine rooting fields of winter wheat."

Zuck noted that he also has witnessed feral swine damages to State Game Lands (SGLs), including food plots, vernal pools and the soils around trees.

LMGS Jonathan Zuck stands in a hole that is more than one foot deep that was caused by feral swine rooting on SGL 49 in Bedford County.

"Recently, on SGL 49, I found a hole that was more than one foot deep that was caused by feral swine rooting," Zuck said. "Last week, I was checking a food plot and noticed where feral swine had rooted about a quarter of a winter wheat food plot. During the same week, I survey rooting damage to a grass field on SGL 97 near Chaneysville. Most of the damage I have observed on and off game lands has been limited to grass fields or food plots with wheat. Rooting activity in grass fields looks similar to damage caused by a shallow-running plow as the grasses and associated soils are turned over. The damage is spotty, but where it does occur it is quite severe as often the vegetation is wiped out, exposing bare soils."

Zuck noted that, in addition to disturbing vegetation, feral swine are out competing native wildlife for natural foods, such as acorns, especially during the fall and winter months.

"I can easily envision a feral swine preying upon a turkey or grouse nest or wallowing in a seep, but some people may not recognize that feral swine are robbing wildlife of its limited food resources," Zuck said. "A group of up to 10 feral swine can consume a large quantity of acorns in a short amount of time, leaving very little mast behind for deer, turkeys, squirrels, and other wildlife."

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. However, the agency was only recently 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, the Supreme Court decision declared feral swine to be "protected mammals," and, as a consequence, feral swine could only be taken as authorized by the agency. Without established harvest rules, the Supreme Court declared them protected until such time as the agency takes action.