The aptly nicknamed "pork chopper" bill — which authorizes hunters to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters — passed a preliminary vote in the Texas House today, 137-9.
Landowners who suffer property damage from feral hogs are already allowed to hire professional companies that shoot the animals from the sky — at a steep cost. The bill's author, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, says the bill will allow landowners and hunters to hunt feral hogs and coyotes from helicopter, which is currently prohibited in Texas, defraying those costs.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department issued 31 new permits and 85 license renewals to aircraft companies for aerial wildlife management in 2010. Officials say the bill would have no fiscal impact on the agency because it already has a process for issuing licenses and documenting the management of wild animals, like feral hogs and coyotes.
Proponents say the cost of hog management is expensive, and that the legislation could help lower the expense for landowners. The bill analysis estimates that for every dollar spent to control the feral hog population, Texas prevents $7.50 in agricultural damage.
Miller says feral hogs are also encroaching on urban areas, like Irving, where 250 feral hogs were recently trapped.
A similar bill authored by Miller passed in the House last session but didn't make it through a Senate committee. There’s no companion bill in the Senate, but Miller says he has talked with several senators who support the legislation. He has not decided whom to partner with to help push the bill through the upper chamber.
This session’s version is slightly different: It includes a provision to hunt coyotes from helicopters, too. Opponents of the bill say coyotes should not be included because they do not cause the same level of agricultural damage as feral hogs.
“We try to combat, stop, prevent the spread of invasive exotic species wherever we can,” says Tom Harvey, spokesman for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. “Feral hogs are just one of the high profile ones.”
Feral hogs are a mixed breed — a coupling of European hogs introduced to Texas more than 300 years ago by Spanish explorers, and Russian boars introduced in the 1930s for sport hunting. The bill wouldn’t allow hunters in helicopters to sell hog meat, which, according to the TPWD website, “is extremely tasty and much leaner than pen-raised pork.” Opponents also say carcass removal is a potential problem, as hunters would have little incentive to collect the hog bodies.