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Feral pigs behind new state law

The state Department of Agriculture announced the new law putting nuisance wild pigs into the predator category - local experts say the problem isn't a problem in Crook County

   What do certain pigs on the loose have in common with coyotes in Oregon? They are both now legally classified as predatory animals and can be dealt with by landowners in several ways, including hunting and trapping.
   A growing concern over wild pigs in central Oregon has resulted in a new law that adds feral swine to the state)s definition of wildlife. Governor Kitzhaber signed HB 2158 into law this past month. In the past, the disease-carrying, environmentally-damaging pigs had legally been considered livestock, even though they did not belong to anyone and certainly weren't suitable for a farm. As livestock, the law required the animals to be either returned to the rightful owner or sold at a public sale as strays.
   The relatively recent problems caused by feral pigs demanded new language in the law, which results in greater flexibility for local farmers and ranchers.
   Estimates by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) place the number of feral swine at several hundred in a specific area of Jefferson and Wasco Counties alone. Reportedly, another hot spot has been a smaller area in Crook County. But the potential for pig problems exists throughout Oregon. Left unchecked, the swine populations could soar. Their track record of damage is already clear.
   "Now, feral pigs that roam free on public or private land can be shot by a hunter," says George Buckner, director of ODFW's Wildlife Division. "This bill aims to help eliminate feral swine degradation of riparian areas and the depredation of ground nesting birds. The hunter can help control the nuisance."
   Rooting by swine has resulted in damage to agricultural and forested lands, including soil disturbance in riparian and upland areas, increased soil erosion, and the acceleration of the spread of noxious weeds- all factors detrimental to native fish and wildlife habitat. While the wild pigs tend to inhabit areas not commonly seen by humans, they will disperse into agricultural and livestock operations as their population grows. Feral swine in large numbers are capable of significant damage to native wildlife populations.
   Nearly two years ago, feral pigs caused enough ruckus in Central Oregon that landowners demanded action. In response, ODA set up two control areas- one near the Crook County community of Post, and the other in the Antelope area of Jefferson and Wasco Counties. The control area orders required landowners to take measures against the swine. While those control areas are still in effect, the new state law provides a mechanism to handle feral pig problems in other parts of the state.
   When asked about the incidence of feral pigs in Crook County, Oregon State Wildlife Officer, Amos Madison, said he thinks the situation is, in his words, "Moot. I don't know whether they died out over the winter or what. Ranchers had reported seeing pigs, but I haven't seen any or any sign of them. Up in the Antelope area, however, is a different situation."
   To date, outside of the already established control areas, feral swine populations are not reaching impact status. But if those numbers grow, there are now legally recognized tools for ridding an area of a predator that just happens to be a pig.