(AP) An effort by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission to eradicate wild hogs is stoking a controversy in the Legislature over whether the commission should be transformed or even abolished.
Earlier this year the Legislature approved a bill changing the legal status of wild pigs from a protected game species to a "nuisance" animal. The commission then responded with a proclamation to legalize multiple new means for killing hogs by landowners while prohibiting traditional hunting of them.
The essential ban on hunting prompted a litany of complaints to legislators from hunters, The News-Sentinel in Knoxville reported.
And now a bill extending the life of the Wildlife Commission for another five years has stalled in a House committee. The chairman of the committee, Spring City Republican Jim Cobb, says the Commission has shown itself to be out of touch.
State Rep. John Mark Windle, a Democrat from Livingston, said he and other legislators, particularly in East Tennessee and along the Cumberland Plateau, have been swamped with more complaints on the commission's proclamation than on any other subject.
Windle said the hunting ban — which includes forbidding use of dogs to chase hogs in most public hunting areas — was "absolutely not" what he had in mind when sponsoring the bill to change hogs' legal status.
Patrick Garrison, president of The Tennessee Hunters Alliance, called the new hunting rules "ridiculous" and complained that hunters weren't given a say.
Last week, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, introduced a bill (SB2127) that declares the commission "is not authorized to promulgate any rule, regulation, or proclamation that regulates hunting wild hogs on private property." Bell says that is a "first step" with further legislation likely to follow.
The commission bill extending its life for another five years was passed by the Senate but stalled in the House Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City.
The controversy over controlling the hogs arrives at a time when the Wildlife Commission itself could face extinction.
The commission thus stands to be terminated on July 1, 2012, unless the bill is approved before then.
Cobb says the commission has shown itself "a little bit arrogant and unresponsive" to legislators and their constituents and he has accumulated a pile of complaints "two or three inches thick."
The complaints will be the focus of hearings on the commission, likely in February, he said.
The hog situation, Cobb said, may exemplify the commission being out of touch.
"There's a lot of legislators who thought that taking feral hog off (the list of protected animals) would mean being able to control the population and letting hunters hunt them," he said. "Then they used that opportunity to put out a proclamation to stop hunting and for them to trap and kill them."
Mike Butler, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, said he strongly supports the commission's move on hogs, saying that continuing the hunting of the animals as a sport provides an incentive for increasing their numbers. In some cases that means transporting hogs into new areas and releasing them illegally.
"The commission has tried to show leadership on the hog issue at the request of the Legislature," he said and has been unfairly targeted as a result.
Commission chairman William Brown of Signal Mountain, said he hopes the Legislature next year will follow North Carolina's lead and create a $5,000 per animal fine for releasing hogs into the wild, saying a $50 fine is no deterrent.