20130710-070155.jpgRegulation of commercial hog-hunting operations in Pennsylvania has been taken out of the hands of the state Game Commission and put into the hands of the state Department of Agriculture under a new state law.

By P.J. REILLY
Updated Jun 26, 2013 09:37
Stephen L. Mohr said he wasn’t worried about the Pennsylvania Game Commission putting commercial hog operations like his out of business across the state.

But he spent a lot of time the past few months trying to convince customers his Island Exotic Hunts outside Bainbridge was still up and running — and would continue operating into the future.

“If the word starts spreading that hog hunting isn’t going to be allowed anymore, that’s a hard thing to turn around,” said Mohr, who is a Conoy Township supervisor.

“We had groups coming in here this past winter saying they understood this would be the last time they’d be able to hunt with us, and I’d say, ‘Don’t spread that around. It’s not going to happen.'”

On Monday, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill 644, which takes regulating commercial hog hunting out of the hands of the Game Commission and puts it into the hands of the state Department of Agriculture.

“It’s an offshoot of a farming operation, so it should be under the Department of Ag,” Mohr said.

Historically, captive swine have been under the state Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction.

That changed after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2007, which specifically put the Game Commission in charge of feral swine and wild boars, whether they are captive or free-ranging.

Such hogs are not native to Pennsylvania, and are greatly feared for the damage they could cause to the state’s forested and farmed lands.

Hogs periodically have escaped, or have been intentionally released, into the wild in parts of Pennsylvania.

To prevent their introduction into the wild here, the Game Commission earlier this year proposed rules which would have banned on July 1 the importation of “feral swine” and/or “wild boars” into the state. And by July 1, 2014, it would have been illegal for anyone to possess such animals.

That proposal met stiff opposition from the commercial hog-hunting community across Pennsylvania.

Mohr said hunters pay “millions” of dollars each year to go to the two-dozen or so places like Island Exotic Hunts in Pennsylvania to hunt captive-bred hogs.

Mohr’s hunts are run on an island his family owns in the Susquehanna River off Bainbridge.

He declined to say how much money he makes from that operation.

SB 644 stipulates that the “Game Commission shall have no authority to promulgate regulations on swine hunting preserves…”

Instead, the bill requires the Department of Agriculture to develop regulations for such facilities within two years.

And to keep hogs that might escape into the wild from breeding, the bill stipulates that all male hogs kept at hog-hunting preserves must be castrated.

Under Game Commission rules, if a hog gets into the wild, it can be shot by any licensed hunter at any time. The hog then must be made available to the agency for testing.

The signing into law of SB 644 does not change that, according to Travis Lau, the Game Commission’s spokesman.

Lau said the agency’s board of commissioners at a meeting Tuesday tabled its proposed hog rules.

The commissioners want to review the impact of SB 644 to see if there’s anything the Game Commission needs to do further to protect the state from wild hogs.

“Our reasons for introducing the regulations remain unchanged,” Lau said. “When wild boars escape from fenced preserves and get onto the landscape, they cause a lot of damage.”