Lawmakers are upping the ante in the effort to reduce the number of feral hogs, coyotes and armadillos plaguing South Carolina residents and landowners.
Just two years ago, they approved changes to the law that allowed the animals, which are mostly nocturnal, to be hunted at night. Anyone with a hunting license can shoot wild hogs, coyotes and armadillos year-round; no license is required within 100 yards of your home. But there are limits on the types of weapon, size of ammunition for night hunting and use of lights for night hunting.
A bill now in the House would allow hunters from March to June to hunt at night using any legal firearms or archery equipment. It also would allow hunters to use bait, electronic calls, artificial light, infrared, thermal or laser sighting devices, night vision devices, "or any device aiding the identification or targeting of species."
The goal is simple: "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."
Here in the Lowcountry, we've long known the perils of rooting hogs, many of which are hybrids of domestic pigs released into the wild and Eurasian wild boars released by hunters in the early 1900s. But they've spread far and wide from swampy coastal areas, and just as their introduction was the work of man, so has been their rapid dispersal. In 2010, the state also prohibited transporting feral hogs.
"The rate of dispersal is about 70 mph, which is about how fast the trucks move on interstates," Jack Mayer, a wild-hog expert with the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, said in 2010. Hunters trap hogs and move them to create new hunting opportunities. Mayer says that's why wild hogs, formerly only a problem in Southeastern states, can be found in 45 states.
State wildlife officials estimate there are 150,000 feral hogs in South Carolina.
Mayer also warned in 2010 that reducing their numbers wouldn't be easy.
"Lethal removal would help keep the numbers down, but it won't control the population," Mayer said. "You'd have to kill 70 percent every year for nine years to keep the population under control. That's a tough order."
Alvin Taylor, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, says another way to control the hog and coyote populations would be to stiffen penalties and crack down on importing those animals. Officers are building cases against people who bring hogs from Florida or coyotes from Texas to private hunt clubs for paying customers to hunt.
That we have to deal with these creatures' natural proclivities to reproduce, but also man's avarice and short-sightedness is disturbing.
As for armadillos, they apparently are making the move north and east from the Southwest all on their own.
Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton raises a cautionary flag about going after these animals responsibly. Herbkersman said he supports the proposal but wants to make sure hunters don't endanger people.
Amendments to the bill, which went to the full House last week, added penalties for those violating the law. They include a $500 fine or 30 days in jail or both; suspension of a hunting license for a year; and forfeiture of vehicles and firearms used by someone violating the law.
Let's hope enforcement is up to keeping violations in check, and let's hope responsible hunters are up to the task of keeping these animals in check.