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Sen. Dodd bill making it easier to hunt feral hogs in California poised to become law

The opportunistic omnivores have caused extensive damage to crops, open spaces and private property. A bill heading to Gov. Newsom’s desk would ease hunting regulations to reduce the population, estimated at up to 400,000.|

How to tell wild pigs from domestic relatives

Physical characteristics distinguishing feral and domestic pigs

California’s wild pigs are descended from domestic pigs turned feral since their introduction by Spanish missionaries in 1769, and Russian wild boars introduced in Monterey County in the 1920s, according to a University of California report. Here’s how they differ from domestic pigs:

Wild pigs

Hair: Amply covered with coarse long hair

Tail: Straight, covered in hair

Body: Razor-backed, shoulders higher and wider than hindquarters

Tusks: Long and sharp

Head: Longer snout with flat profile

Color: Mostly black, some pied or russet

Young: Dark with horizontal stripes

Domestic pigs

Hair: Sparse, short hair

Tail: Curly, sparse hair

Body: Wide body, flat back

Tusks: Relatively short

Head: Shorter snout, concave profile

Color: Usually white, sometimes russet or pink

Young: Same uniform color as parents

A bill authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd that would make it much easier to hunt feral pigs in California is closer to becoming law.

That’s good news for many farmers, ranchers and landowners, who are seeking to reduce a robust population of wild swine estimated between 200,000 and 400,000.

Dodd’s legislation would further ease restrictions on hunting the pigs, which already can be pursued year-round in California. The hogs were introduced to the area centuries ago and can now be found in 56 of California’s 58 counties, including on public wildlands, agricultural lands and suburban yards.

“They are endangering sensitive habitats, farms and other animals,” Dodd, D-Napa, said in a statement. “By increasing opportunities to hunt them we can reduce the threat to our state.”

The bill passed the state Assembly Monday, and needs only a concurring vote in the Senate before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Asked Thursday afternoon when, or if, the governor might sign the bill, one of his aides replied by text, “We don’t typically comment on pending legislation.”

The opportunistic omnivores have caused extensive damage to crops, open spaces and private property. “They dig, they grub, they eat just about anything they find,” said Hall Chapman, a professor of ecology at the University of Nevada-Reno. “They are incredible disturbance agents.”

“A lot of people call them wild pigs, but that’s not what they are — they’re feral pigs,” said Erik Sklar, who lives in St. Helena and is a member of California’s Fish and Game Commission. “They’re domestic pigs that were released intentionally and bred with other feral pigs.”

“What they are is incredibly destructive,” added Sklar, a former St. Helena City Council member who had been urging Dodd for years to address the porcine problem. “When they go into somebody’s lawn, looking for grubs, it ends up looking like it’s been rototilled. And the same can be true of vineyards, or cornfields, or strawberry fields.

“They hurt all kinds of habitat and plants. It affects the whole food chain,” said Sklar.

So pervasive is the damage done by the pigs that they’ve brought together a coalition of unlikely bedfellows, noted Sklar: “Everyone from environmentalists and park managers to farmers and folks in agriculture all have a problem with them.”

After domesticated pigs were brought here by the Spanish some 250 years ago, “someone had the brilliant idea of introducing wild boar,” said Chapman, “so they have established, and the two have hybridized.”

That’s why the feral pigs in California range from animals “who look like pigs you would see in a barnyard,” to a tusked animal “that has more boar genes.”

When they root for food, the pigs can create widespread disturbances in the soil and open the door to nonnative plants which thrive in such conditions, said Chapman, who taught at Sonoma State University for 22 years, and co-authored studies on how feral pigs affect the landscape, before being hired at Nevada-Reno in 2017.

Feral pigs can prevent native species from “getting a foothold,” he added. Studies have shown the regeneration of oak trees “is thwarted by pig disturbances.”

The hogs, he concluded, “are making ecosystems in California more weedy, more degraded, and less like they have been for millennia.”

Stacy Martinelli, a Santa Rosa-based biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Press Democrat in February that in Sonoma County, hogs 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.

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, also for $15, that allows an unlimited number of harvests.

Some hunters oppose the legislation. Culling the number of wild hogs in the state will make it more difficult for hunters to take one, they worry. By making it easier to kill feral pigs, they say, Dodd’s bill will take business from outfitters and guides who take clients out on private lands to hunt.

Sklar, an early voice in favor of the bill, has also hunted the pigs, which are challenging quarry. “They’re fast, they’re evasive,” he said.

They’re also delicious, he noted, if taken at the proper time. “You’ve got to get them at the right time of year. They’re much more tasty in the fall, when they’ve been eating the acorns on the ground.”

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

How to tell wild pigs from domestic relatives

Physical characteristics distinguishing feral and domestic pigs

California’s wild pigs are descended from domestic pigs turned feral since their introduction by Spanish missionaries in 1769, and Russian wild boars introduced in Monterey County in the 1920s, according to a University of California report. Here’s how they differ from domestic pigs:

Wild pigs

Hair: Amply covered with coarse long hair

Tail: Straight, covered in hair

Body: Razor-backed, shoulders higher and wider than hindquarters

Tusks: Long and sharp

Head: Longer snout with flat profile

Color: Mostly black, some pied or russet

Young: Dark with horizontal stripes

Domestic pigs

Hair: Sparse, short hair

Tail: Curly, sparse hair

Body: Wide body, flat back

Tusks: Relatively short

Head: Shorter snout, concave profile

Color: Usually white, sometimes russet or pink

Young: Same uniform color as parents

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