Outdoors

Oregon lawmakers target feral pigs

POWERS, Ore. -- There's a big pig rooting its way around Jody Cyr's 400 acres of southern Coos County rangeland, and Cyr has spent the better part of the past three years doing his best to kill him.

The 32-year-old Cyr spends many off-season hunting evenings tracking the feral swine, reaching into the vast array of hunting tricks allowed year-round for this non-native, unprotected animal.

"Spotlight it. Bait it. You name it, and I've tried it," Cyr says. "I really want to kill him."

Beginning next year, Cyr might be required by law to kill him, or perhaps become a criminal for failing to do so.

A bill working its way through the Oregon Legislature takes aim at eradicating the state's fledgling populations of wild pigs blamed elsewhere for ruining farmland and harming such native species as deer and ground-nesting birds.

Among its provisions, House Bill 2221 would require landowners to trap or shoot any feral swine known to roam their land, or at a minimum allow someone else to shoot or trap it.

Failing to do so would be a Class A misdemeanor.

Introduced at the request of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the bill is an attempt to keep Oregon from joining states like California and Texas that are overrun with these big pigs.

Cyr believes it is "ridiculous" to put the onus on landowners to fix the state's problems. It's not just backward, Cyr says, it's downright difficult.

"You're darn right I know there's a pig on my land," Cyr says. "I've been trying to kill it for three years, and he's still alive and well. I'm telling you, it's not that easy."

Feral pigs like the ones on Cyr's ranch are all non-natives that trace their roots to Europe and Asia. Oregon's first pigs came as an easy food source for early settlers at the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria. Settlers would let the pigs roam freely then shoot them when needed.

They have never really taken off on their own in Oregon, but small pockets of pigs have cropped up in the state. Sometimes they were planted by ranchers, who imported the swine and released them on their property in hopes of generating hunting opportunities.

Other animals have dug through fencing and rooted up adjoining land, wreaking havoc on quail and other ground-nesting birds, says Rick Boatner, the ODFW's invasive species coordinator.

That likely happened outside of Ashland more than two decades ago when a small pocket of pigs surfaced in the Sampson Creek drainage. They since appear to have been eradicated.

If swine are properly fenced in, they are managed as livestock by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. But when they escape or are hunted, they fall under the management of ODFW biologists who want them eliminated.

Feral pigs can breed so quickly that they can overrun habitat native to other species, Boatner says.

"They really do a number on the habitat and wildlife," Boatner says.

California's feral swine populations didn't start to take off until the 1950s, he says. Now, the state has swine in all counties but one, and the population runs anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million, Boatner says.

Cyr knows those California pigs intimately. The Powers High School principal regularly hunts them near Hollister south of San Jose and recently in the Red Bluff area.

He says pigs have roamed the Powers area for decades, and so far he's shot two -- both in an area about 10 miles from his property.

Cyr disputes the notion that pigs can breed here like jackrabbits.

"If that was happening, I'd have killed 100 of them by now," he says.

Oregon's pig numbers are starting to expand in places like Central Oregon and counties bordering California could start seeing more pigs as they move northward, Boatner says.

"We don't have huge numbers -- yet," Boatner says. "If we take care of it now, we won't be the next Texas or California. That's the reality 50 years from now, and then it won't cost millions to get rid of them. It will cost billions."

The bill now before the Legislature would ban the sale or purchase of feral swine hunts on public or private lands. That, Boatner says, would take the financial incentive out of future pig propagation.

To get at the current "sounder" of swine, the bill's language makes it illegal to knowingly allow a feral swine to roam your land and the requirement to trap or kill them gets at those escaped animals.

If it passes and is signed into law, it moves Cyr and others right to the front line of swine-abatement, with marching orders to get rid of all wild pigs.

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