COLUMBIA -- New laws passed by the legislature this year aim to rein in three problem species -- wild hogs, coyotes and renegade hunters.
All three have been spreading in recent years, according to wildlife officials and law-abiding hunters. The bills passed this legislative session won't get rid of any of the problems, but they could slow their spread.
The hog bill received little attention but might be the most important of the changes, according to wildlife officials. One provision makes it illegal to capture wild hogs and transport them to other areas of the state. The law also allows night hunting of hogs.
Wild hogs, a nuisance in the Lowcountry for centuries, have spread throughout the state in the past 50 years. The recent movement has been unnaturally fast -- in South Carolina and nationwide.
"The rate of dispersal is about 70 mph, which is about how fast the trucks move on interstates," said Jack Mayer, a wild-hog expert with the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken.
Hunters often trap several hogs and move them to relatively hog-free areas to create new hunting possibilities. That is how a non-migratory species -- wild hogs, formerly only a problem in Southeastern states -- came to be found in 45 states, Mayer said.
In asking for legislation banning transportation of wild hogs, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources cited many concerns. Not only do wild hogs have high rates of diseases that can spread to other species including humans, they also root for food in wetlands and along stream banks, creating sediment runoff problems. If other food sources are around -- corn on the stalk, for example -- wild hogs will eat that, too, much to the chagrin of farmers. With their enormous size and voracious appetites, the hogs can force out other species that eat the same food.
Wild hogs have become one of the state's most popular big-game species for hunters, ranking second only to white-tail deer nationwide, Mayer said. But S.C. hunters can't kill wild hogs fast enough to keep up with their reproduction. While the new night-hunting law should lead to more kills, it is unclear how effective it will be in slowing the spread of hogs.
"You've got to remove 50 to 70 percent of the (hog) population in an area to put a dent in it," Mayer said "Maybe we'll be lucky and (night hunting) will help us hold our own" against the exploding wild hog population.
Because they naturally are nocturnal, hogs are on the move mostly at night, said Troy Ayer, owner of the Buck and Boar hunting lodge in Calhoun County. Hunters have taken about 800 hogs at Buck and Boar in the past year. Allowing night hunting opens a new market for Ayer, but hunters at his lodge won't have any impact on the overall hog population. His 800 acres are fenced, and the hogs stay inside the fence.
"I understand why they made the laws," Ayer said. "People relocating hogs is not a natural expansion, and they can be devastating on the ecosystem."
Ayer said his hogs don't tear up his property or try to escape because he sets up feeders for them. But "if the feeders get clogged, they'll turn the place upside down," he said.
COYOTES AND ARMADILLOS
Another bill passed by the legislature this year added coyotes and armadillos to the list of animals that S.C. hunters legally can shoot at night.
The legislature also expanded coyote-trapping season by a month in an effort to control that species' rapidly expanding population. Coyotes and armadillos are more recent additions to the state's invasive species and, like wild hogs, are spreading.
Coyotes have become a nuisance for farmers, killing chickens, goats and sheep. In more urban areas, they have been known to kill family pets.
Like hogs, coyotes do most of their roaming at night. Hunting them in daylight isn't an effective way to cut down coyote populations, wildlife experts say. Night hunting should help.
Another new law puts restrictions on the use of dogs to hunt deer in South Carolina.
The "Renegade Hunter Act" makes it illegal to use dogs to hunt deer on the edges of other people's property -- or into their property -- unless hunters have the property owners' permission.
Using dogs to run deer toward waiting hunters is a tradition. But with development spreading through more rural areas of the state, new landowners often don't approve of hunting dogs running through their property.
Scott Major, who hunts deer without dogs on his Orangeburg County property, has been fighting for dog-running restrictions for six years. "The deer doggers have gotten bolder the last few years because nothing has been done" in the legislature, he said.
Dog-hunting groups say they do everything they can to keep their dogs on their property. They blame the worst of the problems on "renegade" hunters who purposely release their dogs to chase deer off or through neighbors' land.
"This bill takes into consideration personal property owners and renegade dog owners," said state Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, who introduced the bill. "What violates the law is if a hunter has a loaded weapon on unauthorized property."
Major argues the law doesn't go far enough, saying its provisions will make it difficult to prosecute anyone but the worst offenders.
"It's better than what we had, which was nothing," Major said. "But really all this is is an election-year law, where they make it seem like they're doing something, but they're really not doing anything."