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‘Declaring war’ on hogs and coyotes in SC

A bill being considered by state legislators would invite hunters to use almost any means to slow the expansion of wild hogs and coyotes in South Carolina.

“We’re declaring war on hogs and coyotes,” said Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, during a House natural resources subcommittee meeting Wednesday.

Lowe introduced the bill, H.4943, which would allow night hunting of hogs, coyotes and armadillos from March through June. Not only does the bill allow hunting after dark, but it also allows the use of bait, lights and laser sights – almost anything short of poison that might aid in getting rid of these destructive species.

“What we’re talking about is killing,” said Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens. “We’re not talking about hunting. We need to take these animals out any way we can.”

Harsh measures are needed to reduce the threat hogs and coyotes pose for crops, livestock and wildlife. While wild hogs have been in the swamps of the coastal plain and a few mountain areas for centuries, they have spread widely and multiplied quickly in recent years. Pitts said they only arrived in large numbers in Laurens County in the past decade.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources estimates the state’s wild hog population at 150,000. As the population explodes, so does the damage done.

Richland County farmer Kirkman Finlay told the subcommittee that hogs tear through freshly planted corn on his 1,400 acre property near U.S. 601 and the Congaree River, forcing the replanting of between 50 and 200 acres each year.

“When they’re done, it looks like a little mortar went off in your field,” said Finlay, a former Columbia City Council member.

The financial damage caused by hogs (and to a lesser extent livestock-killing coyotes) in the state adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year, according to DNR.

Finlay told of killing 260 wild hogs on the family property off U.S. 601 last year. That hardly put a dent in the population; another 62 have been killed there this year. Closer to downtown Columbia, 15 wild hogs were killed last weekend on Finlay’s property near the Congaree and I-77.

Those hogs were taken under the current hunting regulations or after Finlay applied for special permits. “We’re going after them with every effort possible ... but it’s not enough,” Finlay said.

Current hunting and trapping restrictions prevent farmers from keeping up with births by the prolific hogs. If farmers aren’t allowed more means to control hog populations, corn and soybeans won’t be feasible crops in much of Richland and Calhoun counties, Finlay said.

Hogs were the main subject during Wednesday’s hearing, but the bill also covers armadillos and coyotes. Currently, anyone with a hunting license can shoot wild hogs, coyotes and armadillos year-round (no license is required within 100 yards of your home). There are limits on the types of weapon, size of ammunition for night hunting and use of lights for night hunting of the species.

The natural resources agency didn’t speak in favor of the bill, but Alvin Taylor, director of the agency, said reducing hog and coyote populations would be a positive.

Taylor suggested another means to control the hog and coyote populations would be to stiffen the penalties for and crack down on importation of those animals. His officers are building cases against people who bring hogs from Florida or coyotes from Texas to private hunt clubs for paying customers to hunt. Hogs and coyotes are showing up in some areas “not because they walked there,” Taylor said. “They’re coming in the back of trucks.”