JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri representative said he wants to get rid of the overwhelming number of wild hogs in the state.
Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, is working to further regulate the commercial hunting industry by increasing fines and tightening regulations for recklessly released animals. Loehner said this industry has contributed to the number of wild hogs in Missouri.
According to Loehner, the animals could have been released from a variety of sources: hog operations, pet owners and licensed hunting operations.
"People are raising hogs to hunt on private land (and) then the hogs get loose onto public land," Loehner said. "They go crazy and cause terrible property damage in certain areas."
Russian and other European breeds of wild boars are bred for sport hunting purposes across the state. They are released in fenced areas to be hunted. Loehner, however, said not all hogs are caught. They are typically left to roam freely and do not belong to any specific owner, he said.
Rex Martensen from the Missouri Department of Conservation said the hogs' behavior also contributes to soil erosion, reduced water quality, an increase in the spread of disease to humans and animals, damage to agricultural land and natural resource depletion.
"They're opportunistic eaters," Martensen said. "When their snout comes across something, or anything, they'll try to eat it."
Michael Gaskins, a conservationist from Dent and Shannon counties, said capturing the wild boars can be difficult because they are nocturnal and hide where they can find thick brush, minimizing their chance of being disturbed. This makes the boars hard to find and able to cause large amounts of property damage during the night.
Leslie Holt, a conservationist from Texas County, said she receives around three to four complaints per month in her area and sees damages to mostly agricultural land. One of those recent complaints concerned four wild hog nests within an 800-acre farm plot.
She said the presence of hogs and their aggressive eating behavior drives other types of wildlife — including turkey, deer, rabbits and other ground animals — out of the areas.
"We completed an aerial viewing of the land in our county and noticed several hay fields completely rooted up," Holt said. "It also seemed to us that other wildlife were not present where wild hogs reside."
Holt estimated that the average wild boar she has seen captured weighs 325 to 350 pounds.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's Web site, wild hogs are in at least 20 of Missouri's 114 counties, mostly in the southern half of the state.
Martensen said he is sure the increased wild hog population is connected with commercial hog hunting facilities.
"The folks that want to hunt the hogs have a reason to keep them on the landscape and encourage their existence by releasing the pigs," Martensen said. "The run-of-the-mill guy wouldn't have much incentive to haul hogs and dump them."
But Charles Puff, the owner of High Adventure Ranch in Cook Station, said he knows the industry isn't to blame.
"Nobody would intentionally release them because they have value," Puff said. "It's just not going to happen."
Martensen said initial wild hog releases might have been attributed to a drop in the hog market in the 1970s and 1980s.
"When the hog market hit the bottom, they might have opened up the gates and let them go," Martensen said. "This may have created an older population that we need to control."
Puff said that Russian and razorback boar hunting is a huge part of his business, ranking second in number of hunters. He said he raises 500 to 600 boars for hunting each year, all of which are naturally bred on his ranch. Some of those boars will reach more than 500 pounds.
Hunters on Puff's ranch are free to take the hogs they kill, eat the meat and send them to a taxidermist.
"We pioneered the business in Missouri over 28 years ago, and we haven't had any problems keeping hogs on our property," Puff said. "The hogs have no reason to leave, and it would be money out of my pocket."
To keep the hogs from leaving his ranch, Puff said his staff makes sure to provide adequate food and water, monitor the hogs constantly and maintain electric fences around the property.
Puff said he thinks the fines and regulations proposed might be a little too high for smaller businesses to keep up with and doesn't think there are as many hogs being released as believed.
He said that the only thing increased legislation would do is cause prices for hunting to rise and possibly turn away potential customers.
"I guess this representative just doesn't have anything better to do with his time," Puff said.
Puff also serves on the legal committee for the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association.
If passed, the Missouri Department of Agriculture's director would be given the power to regulate the fencing and health standards for a wild hog held on private land.
The department would also be responsible for awarding permits annually for possession of any wild hogs. It would be illegal to transport these hogs across public land unless specifically meant for slaughter purposes.
"I would support an amendment that would allow for farm-to-farm transportation," said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem. "But otherwise, I like the legislation."
Smith is on the House Special Committee on Emerging Issues in Animal Agriculture, which first heard the bill.
Loehner said he will support the suggested amendment.
Violation of the proposed regulations concerning unlawful possession, confining and transportation of wild hogs would result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a Class A misdemeanor. If a person recklessly releases swine into the wild, they will be fined:
- $1,000 per swine for the first violation
- $2,000 per swine for the second violation
- $3,000 per swine for the third and any subsequent violations
The bill would also create the Animal Health Fund that keeps the legislation "cost-neutral," Loehner said, by using the fines and administrative fees to enforce the new rules.
Martensen said this legislation would help support the efforts of the Missouri Feral Hog Task Force chaired by the directors of the departments of Agriculture and Conservation.
"The main intent is to close some previously opened loopholes that some have wiggled through in the past," Martensen said.