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California to ease hunting limits on feral pigs under new law

Under a single, $25 yearly permit, hunters will now be allowed to kill an unlimited number of the animals in a bid to curb the population and limit damage to private and public lands.|

It will now be easier — and cheaper — for California landowners and hunters to kill more feral hogs, an introduced species with few natural predators that has wreaked havoc on farmland, suburban yards and wildlife habitat across the state.

The legislation, authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd and signed into law Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, seeks to spur private efforts to control California’s growing feral pig population.

The omnivorous hogs do tens of millions of dollars in damage every year to crops, open spaces and private property, and can now be found in 56 of the state’s 58 counties.

“By increasing opportunities to hunt them, we can reduce the threat to our state,” Dodd, D-Napa, said in a statement.

The opportunistic swine now number between 200,000 and 400,000 in California, are not native to the state, but have descended from domestic pigs introduced by European settlers as far back as the 1700s.

“They’re very prolific, and they’ve been expanding steadily for a couple hundred years,” said Eric Sklar, a Napa resident and member of the California Fish and Game Commission.

Dodd’s bill “is not going to eradicate them — I think eradication is probably impossible,” said Sklar. “But it will help us reduce them in areas where they’re doing the most damage.”

To kill one of the hogs now, hunters must buy a $15 permit, called a tag, that is good for one animal. Before killing a feral pig on their property, ranchers must get a depredation permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The new bill will allow landowners to kill the animals without a permit. For hunters, it would replace the single-animal tag with a season-long validation, which allows an unlimited number of harvests.

That validation will cost $25 for residents and $90 for nonresidents.

Stacy Martinelli, a Santa Rosa-based biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Press Democrat in February that hogs in Sonoma County are doing most of their damage to vineyards, ranch lands and rural residential properties largely in the Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg and Cazadero areas and off the Russian River.

Dodd’s legislation was opposed by some hunters. By allowing “validation” holders to kill unlimited numbers of the pigs, they contended, Dodd’s bill could make it more difficult for other hunters to take a single one. Critics of the bill also expressed concern that it would end up hurting outfitters and guides who take clients on private lands to hunt.

The law prohibits “any new contained hunting preserves, also known as canned hunts,” Dodd said in a statement.

In a compromise to owners of those facilities, the bill grandfathers in existing hunting preserves.

In a letter to Dodd in June, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau said it could not support the bill, due to its “ambiguity” around the way the state would determine how long “an enclosed hunting preserve will be deemed to have been ‘in operation.’”

With the bill having been amended to its satisfaction since then, the bureau removed its opposition, Executive Director Dayna Ghirardelli said in an email Friday.

“These are nuanced matters,” noted Sklar, who applauded Dodd for “doing a masterful job of finding compromise between stakeholders with different perspectives.”

The fact that Senate Bill 856 passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate before Newsom signed it “is a testament to the work Dodd did to get this bill passed,” he said.

The lone swath of public land open to pig hunting in Sonoma County is the Lake Sonoma Recreation Area, where an archery-only season runs from November to March.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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