On the heels of a recent resounding win for bear hunting in California, a less-than-stellar wild pig hunting bill is currently with the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee.
According to a letter to the Senate Natural Resources committee signed by 11 California hunting groups, the bill would reduce valuable hunting opportunities, gut vital state-wide conservation funding that supports wildlife and habitat management, remove a source of important wildlife management data, and create a management nightmare for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Bad Language, Bad Bill
Charles Whitwam, the founder of HOWL, a non-profit, action-oriented online portal dedicated to protecting wildlife and science-based management practices, told Free Range American he recognized the anti-hunting language in the bill right away.
“S.B. 856, as introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd, is a direct lift of a 2018 wild pig bill, authored by Sen. Frank Bigelow, that died in the Senate,” he said. “The original bill included anti-hunting language that Jennifer Fearing lobbied for on behalf of the Humane Society.”
That language was cut from the 2018 bill before the legislation ultimately failed, but it’s now back in Sen. Dodd’s bill:
This bill would also prohibit a person from intentionally or knowingly releasing any hog, boar, pig, or swine to live in a wild or feral state upon public or private land and would prohibit a person from engaging in, sponsoring, or assisting in the operation of a contained hunting preserve, as defined, of wild pig, feral pig, European wild boar, or domestic swine within this state. The bill would also prohibit the use of poison to take exotic game mammals.
Essentially, the bill would make fenced hunts illegal — a move that hunting groups say would hurt parts of the hunting community that should be supported and also set a dangerous legislative precedent.
“These hunts provide an opportunity to many, including our most deserving wounded warriors, those with special needs, the elderly, and youth who are physically unable to handle traditional hunts. For us, this is a ‘slippery slope’ as we can easily see planted upland game bird hunts next on the list,” the group’s letter pointed out.
In California, 52% of the state is public land; of that, 38.3%, or roughly 38.1 million acres, is open to public hunting.
Management, Data, and Revenue Red Flags
Another issue for hunters and wildlife managers pertains to the revenue from wild pig tags that would be lost by replacing them with a wild pig validation.
Current hunting regs require hunters to purchase a tag for every wild pig they kill with no limit on the number of tags purchased or pigs killed. Each resident tag costs $25.92 as of the 2021-2022 season. Non-resident wild pig tags are $86.97 per animal.
Under the new law, hunters would be able to purchase a single validation, akin to the duck stamp, which would allow the hunter to shoot as many wild pigs as they want. The cost would be $15 for residents and $50 for non-residents.
According to HOWL, that would add up to over $1 million in lost revenue, which would directly impact the annual funding available for programs and projects critical to the health of all big game species.
Under current law, property owners must obtain a depredation permit in order to kill nuisance pigs and then report their kills. The new bill would remove those requirements.
Two issues arise from this: a lack of permitting opens the door to the no-holds-barred killing of an indeterminant number of wild pigs and a possible increase in poaching incidents; without harvest numbers, the DFW will have little to no data for implementing science-based management of wild pigs.
It is true that there is no bag limit or daily possession limit on wild pigs, but unchecked hunting of wild animals has never resulted in favorable outcomes; ask the American Bison.
Pouring even more salt in the wound, the new bill would reclassify wild pigs as exotic game mammals, and ask the DFW to create a new management plan for them — something that Whitwam believes is an unreasonable ask.
“The bill requires the DFW to prepare a management plan for wild pigs no later than January of 2024, which is not feasible. Here in California, they’re already working on management plans for deer, black bears, bobcats, and wild sheep. They don’t need to be working on a wild pig management plan at the same time.”
HOWL has organized an action alert for the public to weigh in on the bill.
“If the goals of this legislation are a single validation instead of tag sales, and improved access to depredation hunting for landowners, this legislation needs to be gutted and improved — so it must be stopped in its current form,” the organization’s website says.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct an error in the reported acreage of public land available to hunt in California.