I’ve been remiss in keeping up with all this stuff that has been going on in Pennsylvania, so if you haven’t already seen this elsewhere, here’s the story in brief.

Johnna Seeton of the Pennsylvania Legislative Animal Network (and an officer of the Humane Society “police”) brought a suit against the State of Pennsylvania in 2004, alleging that the PA Game Commission failed to enforce game code violations at Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve (a high-fence operation).  The State responded that the animals in game preserves are not “game animals” under state law, and as such, the Commission had no authority to regulate the hunting practices or enforce game codes there. 

Well, it looks like the PA Supreme Court has now designated the wild boar as game animals, and placed responsibility for their regulation and management on the PA Game Commission.  You can read more detail about this in the PA Morning Call.

This opens a whole can of worms for the state and hunters.  Previously, since the boar was not considered a game animal, hunters were permitted (and encouraged) to kill them in the wild any time they were encountered.  Under the new designation, the boar will have “Protected” status, since no hunting season or regulations address them.  While escapes are fairly limited, wild boar reproduce rapidly in the wild, and a significant population can grow up in a relatively short time.  They are destructive to habitat, farm crops, and potentially a health threat to domesticated hogs.  With the new designation and no regulations in place to manage them, this is a potentially huge problem for Pennsylvania. 

There’s no secret that Seeton’s intent is to undermine and shut down high fence hunting in Pennsylvania.  She’s said so herself.  But like so many other misguided animal rights battles, the downrange results of her actions pose a big threat to the environment and native species she claims to protect.  Fortunately, the Game Commission is moving quickly to close the gaps and allow hunters to continue to shoot the invasive animals.  The longer term impacts on hunting preserves in PA remains to be seen. 

Now, for my opinion… this whole fiasco need not turn out to be bad thing.  From what I’ve read, the high fence ranches basically operated in a legal black hole… since there didn’t appear to be any real regulation on the practices inside their fences (someone correct me if I’m wrong).   No one seems to know what law enforcement authority has jurisdiction inside their walls.  I don’t know anything about any of the businesses there, and for all I know they were all operating above board and with good ethics.  But I have to agree with the idea that someone needs to have authority and regulatory control in order to avoid the kinds of abuses that foul the nest for high fence operations around the country… whether it’s the Game Commission, State Animal Control, or some other office specially created for the purpose.  High Fence ranches are not for everybody, but they are a legitimate business and should be permitted to operate just like any other legitimate business.  Ms. Seeton’s aims to shut them down should be thwarted, but perhaps she has exposed a problem that does need to be addressed. 

You can read more and comment about this issue at Dave Hurteau’s Field and Stream Field Notes blog