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Corbett signs assurance that boar hunts will continue

HARRISBURG - The legislature's calendar this week is filled with multibillion-dollar bills that remain mired in the muddy morass of the budget debate.

HARRISBURG - The legislature's calendar this week is filled with multibillion-dollar bills that remain mired in the muddy morass of the budget debate.

But out of the muck came bolting a bill to save wild boar hunts in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Corbett signed legislation Monday to allow the boars, also known as feral hogs, to continue to be imported from Europe for use on hunting ranches.

The bill's passage came over the objections of the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as the prevailing wisdom of wildlife biologists and legislatures in other states, which have taken action to eradicate the destructive animals.

But in Pennsylvania's brief boar war, as some here have nicknamed it, the president pro tempore of the Senate prevailed.

Sen. Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) drafted the bill to protect two game ranches in his district, which includes seven counties in the northern tier.

Make no mistake, this is no boar sanctuary bill. The animals will still be hunted for their meat and to be mounted as trophies.

The new law also establishes that the state Department of Agriculture, not the Game Commission, will be responsible for regulating captive board. And it requires that male boars be neutered by ranch operators to prevent reproduction should they escape.

In other states, such as Texas and Michigan, escaped wild boars have caused significant destruction, destroying crops and terrorizing farm animals. On the day the Scarnati bill moved through the Senate, New York state lawmakers approved a bill banning the importation of wild boars. It awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature.

After being poised to take action similar to New York's, the Game Commission beat a hasty retreat in the face of the newly signed law, on Tuesday agreeing to table a proposal to eliminate all existing feral swine and ban their importation.

That proposal "was based on the conclusion that escaped and feral swine are destructive to native wildlife species and their habitats, and pose health risks and other threats," the commission said in a statement. "The animals are prolific breeders and can quickly establish wild populations once escaped."

The boar bill swiftly became fodder this week for state Democratic Party operatives, who insisted that Corbett's announcement of the signing showed he cared more about hogs than women.

The party sent out an e-mail poking fun at Corbett for including more words in that announcement than in a previous one for a bill banning private insurance coverage for women seeking abortions under the Affordable Care Act.

The signing, however, was welcomed among operators of hog hunting ranches, estimated at 18 statewide.

"It's a good thing for our industry," said Mike Gee, owner of Tioga Ranch in Tioga County, which has offered boar hunts for nearly a half-century. The county is in Scarnati's district.

Gee said that while the ranch stocks other species such as exotic deer and wild rams, he would have had to lay off several employees if the ranch had to forgo boar hunting - his most popular hunt - for which hunters pay up to $950.

Gee said that he can't remember the last time a boar escaped but that it was probably at least 20 years ago.

The Humane Society of the United States opposed the bill because it protected "canned hunts," or the shooting of animals in enclosed areas.

Sarah Speed, the group's state director, said that in addition, loose boar spread diseases that pose a threat to native species.

"We are extremely disappointed in the legislature," said Speed. "When other states take leaps forward in eradicating an invasive species, Pennsylvania takes steps backward."