What we don't want, insists state Rep. Sid Miller, is "some Bubba flyin' around, sayin', 'Pass me the beer and the ammo!'" The District 59 rep's talking about his most recent proposal, H.B. No. 836, which calls for extending aerial hunting of feral hogs -- which currently is done only by Texas Wildlife Services -- to sport hunters. According to Mike Bodenchuk, USDA biologist and state director for Texas Wildlife Services, this means classifying the hogs as wildlife. (They're currently considered free-ranging exotic animals, meaning there are no restrictions on when they can be hunted, as long as the hunter has a license ... and is shooting from the ground.) That would put feral hogs under the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's jurisdiction.
Miller, a Stephenville resident, says the inspiration for the bill came from his own, and his neighbors', experience. Whenever he went into town, people were talking about hog problems, Miller says, and he was starting to get calls about the issue. At his ranch, he saw the issue firsthand: "They've torn up my hay fields, they eat my feed, tear up my fences, destroy my crops ... They will completely destroy a peanut field!" (A 2004 study indicated a dramatic rise in East Texas's feral hog population.)
Miller says that since news of the proposed legislation started circulating last week, he's gotten hundreds of calls in favor of it. "I was shocked," Miller says. "I didn't know it would be received so well."
Part of that support probably has to do with the fact that feral hogs caused $52 million of agricultural damage in 2006 -- not to mention, Miller notes, the damage to urban infrastructure like parks and golf courses. "Probably the biggest financial damage," Miller speculates, "is vehicular damage. If you hit one of those 300-pound [hogs], it's gonna demolish the front end of your car!"
Bodenchuk says he's concerned about the burden of regulation on aerial sport hunting. Beyond permits, how will the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department control who's out there shooting, and how much training they have? Does the agency even have the resources to regulate that? Further, if hogs are designated as "wildlife," then people may only be able to hunt them in a certain season. Bodenchuk reminds us, however, that there are 2 million feral hogs in the state of Texas, and that they're a big problem.
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"Anybody who's removing feral hogs is a friend of mine. I'm in favor of recreational hunters shooting them," Bodenchuk says. "I am concerned with them doing it from the air. Untrained people with guns on aircraft? There's a lot of parts of airplanes you're not supposed to shoot."