A bill addressing how to handle up to 400,000 wild pigs that are roaming across California has been signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Senate Bill 856, authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, will loosen regulations and lower hunting fees for killing the wild pigs, which have been found in 56 of the state's 58 counties, excepting only San Francisco and Alpine counties.
The bill passed without any votes in opposition in both the state Senate and Assembly and was sent in late August to the governor. SB 856 allows someone to kill an unlimited number of wild pigs as well as prohibiting someone from intentionally releasing a pig to live in the wild, among other changes in state law.
Newsom approved the bill Thursday, the same day that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state's Fish and Game Commission held an online forum on the issue of wild pigs and possible solutions to mitigate the damage and danger they pose around the state.
The growing number of the pigs isn't just a California problem -- they were found in 544 counties nationwide 40 years ago, but are in 1,915 counties as of 2020, said Ari Cornman, wildlife advisor for the Fish and Game Commission.
Their numbers have grown quickly because the pigs reproduce quickly and are "incredibly intelligent," Cornman said. The animals are nocturnal, can find ways to elude control methods, and they also "eat just about anything and live in just about any habitat," he said.
Eric Sklar, a member of the state's Fish and Game Commission, described the wild pigs as "a complicated problem and the solutions are complicated."
Despite provisions of SB 856 that will make it easier to hunt wild pigs in California, including allowing the use of artificial lights to hunt them at night, Roger Baldwin, a professor at University of California, Davis specializing in human-wildlife conflict, said some other states don't allow wild pig hunting at all, finding that the pig numbers grew and popped up in new places because people were transporting the animals around for hunting opportunities.
Other states use methods banned in California, like in Texas where they use "aerial control," in which crews go up in helicopters and shoot the wild pigs from above, said Dennis Orthmeyer, state director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services.
Orthmeyer said he had seen an instance of 2,600 wild pigs being removed from a Texas property in a week, but the practice of aerial control of a game mammal is banned in California.
The state's ongoing drought is also exacerbating the problem by causing the pigs to go into more urban areas to find water and food, according to Chris Lopez, a member of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and of the Rural County Representatives of California.
"The drought is pushing the pigs out of the hills down toward human life," Lopez said. "They're more willing to interact with humans or at least get close."
Sklar, the member of the state's Fish and Game Commission, said the commission at its meeting next month will revisit the topic of wild pigs. Some provisions of SB 856 go into effect at the start of 2023, while others take effect on July 1, 2024.
More information on wild pigs in California can be found at wildlife.ca.gov.