×

Warning

JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 12658

Hunters claim they were unfairly targeted in undercover poaching operation

Some hunters in Western North Carolina are speaking out against the tactics used by undercover wildlife officers in a multi-year bear poaching investigation. 

Hunting season

out natcornOrion the Hunter has taken to the late autumn skies. One of the loveliest and most easily recognized constellations will be stalking the heavens until he slides into the daytime sky early next spring. Astronomers believe the Hunter, in his present form, is more than a million years old and think he will continue to stalk the heavens for another couple million years.

Relaxed hunting rules would keep bear population in check

out frA longer season, a higher quota, shooting over bait piles — these are just a few aspects of the state bear hunting laws the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is looking at changing to keep the ever-growing bear population in check.

To test the public’s reaction to possible widespread changes to bear hunting laws, the agency held a series of public meetings across the state. Last week at Haywood Community College, wildlife commissioners and staff faced a crowded auditorium — including both hunters and wildlife activists.

Honest hunters have little tolerance for renegade tactics

out bear2Shock waves rippled through the mountain hunting community last week as word spread of a sweeping undercover investigation targeting dozens of illegal rogue hunters.

“Operation Something Bruin:” Dozens of rogue hunters busted in illegal mountain poaching ring

coverLast week, state and federal wildlife officers began rounding up dozens of suspected poachers in Western North Carolina, bringing to fruition an undercover investigation that spanned several years across several rural mountain counties and penetrated the heart of an illegal hunting ring that targeted black bears.

Cherokee hopes bounty will help rein in pesky coyote population

out frIn Cherokee, a dead coyote is worth more than a live one — about $25 more.

In the coming weeks, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department will begin doling out $25 bounties to enrolled tribal members for each coyote they shoot and kill on tribal land. Cherokee hunters can exchange the coyote carcasses for money but get to keep the pelt if they want. The bodies will be incinerated.

Dog owners stand up for their hunting heritage

fr jacksonhuntersA burley crowd wearing their long lineage of Appalachian ancestry proudly on their sleeves stared down Jackson County commissioners this week, decrying the idea of an ordinance that would muzzle their hunting dogs.

Not-so-strange bedfellows

I was encouraged by a recent press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The release stated, “In a show of force and unity, over 100 North Carolina sporting groups are calling on the General Assembly to restore critical funding for conservation. The groups, ranging from venerable statewide wildlife, turkey, waterfowl, deer, bear hunting organizations to trout, bass and local rod and gun clubs, are seeking investments in land, water and wildlife infrastructure in what amounts to less than 0.5 % of the entire budget.”

These groups representing Trout Unlimited Chapters, Wild Turkey Federation Chapters, Quality Deer Management Associations, NC Ducks Unlimited plus scores of other sportsman/sportswoman organizations across the state are all signers on a recent letter to North Carolina’s General Assembly. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“We are hundreds of thousands of dedicated sportsmen and women from North Carolina. We span political parties and ideologies. We are bird hunters and waterfowlers, trout and bass anglers, hunters and trappers. What we share is a deep-rooted passion and concern for conservation and our sporting heritage.”

“The country’s original conservationists, hunters and anglers, are still on the forefront of conservation. Our dollars spent on licenses, gear, and associated expenditures such as travel, bait and tackle, meals, and lodging has a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.  According to the most recent survey of the USFWS about the economic value of fish and wildlife based recreational activities, we contributed $4.3 billion to the state’s economy while supporting over 46,000 jobs.

“For years, the General Assembly has recognized sportsmen’s economic input and commitment to fish and wildlife resources by fully funding the state’s four conservation trust funds. Now conservation funding has been cut by a disproportionate 90 percent. Fiscal responsibility is important, but it doesn’t mean abandoning successful programs that have protected tens of thousands of acres of game lands, wetlands, fishing habitat and farmland across the state.

“In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential that you restore a portion of these critical funds for the wild places that sustain our sporting heritage and economic impact.

“This request comes to less than a half percent of the state budget, but the payoff is enormous. For every dollar invested the state receives at least $4 of natural goods and services such as drinking water protection, flood control and cleaner air.  When you add in the associated benefits for our $22 billion a year travel and tourism and $32 billion agricultural industries, it is clear that conservation is crucial to our economy. Please support this major economic driver by:

• Restoring funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) to $40 million, still well below historic levels.

• Removing the general prohibition on the use of CWMTF funds for land acquisition.

• Maintaining the dedicated revenue source for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and oppose any diversion of those funds.

• Funding the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund at $2 million.”

When traditional environmental groups like Audubon NC, Southern Environmental Law Center, Western North Carolina Alliance, NC Sierra Club and others decried the Republican assault on the environment in North Carolina’s General Assembly and penned a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue thanking her for vetoing S781 and S709 (both of which, I believe, have been overturned), it was easy for Republican lawmakers to rant about “tree huggers” and “environmental whackos.”

But when members of the General Assembly look at this wide ranging and broad base of support, marshaled by the NC Wildlife Federation (who, by the way, was also a co-signer on the letter to Perdue) that crosses all party lines and ideologies, perhaps they will see that all North Carolinians treasure North Carolina’s wild places.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Open season: Crack down on wild boar may meet resistance from hunters

There’s a new call to arms for hunters of wild boar: shoot as many as you can — day or night, anytime of year — and ask questions later.

Wild boar are a reviled scourge on the landscape. Yet until now, hunters couldn’t shoot more than two per person and the hunting season was limited to only six months of the year in the six western counties.

The game laws didn’t make sense given the nearly universal loathing of wild boar, prompting the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to consider a more liberal hunting policy toward the animal.

The open invitation to hunt them in mass quantities is a plea to hunters to help get rid of the destructive beasts that have taken root in the mountains despite not belonging here.

“Ideally, statewide from the mountains to the coast, all feral swine would disappear,” said Evin Stanford, a wild boar expert with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

But the hunting community might not be so eager to see wild boar wiped out.

“I like to hunt them, and I would hate for them to be eradicated,” said Curtis Bradley, a hunter from Canton and member of the WNC Sportsman’s Club.

Many hunters don’t like the idea of an open, year-round season with no bag limits. Bag limits are intended to protect game animals from over hunting, ensuring their viability as a huntable species in the future.

“I think the ones that actually hunt them wouldn’t want the bag limits to go away,” Bradley said.

Hunters are expected to voice their disapproval at a public hearing on the new hunting laws for feral swine being held at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 14) at Haywood Community College by the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

Ecologists have a different view, however. Feral swine are nature’s version of a bulldozer, devouring everything in their path and leaving a wake of uprooted earth.

The hunting changes will apply in the six western counties. In the rest of the state, hunters can already shoot an unlimited number of wild boar all year. The change will bring the six western counties in line with the long-standing policy toward wild boar everywhere else.

In fact, they aren’t even called wild boar in the rest of the state, but instead are bestowed with the far less romantic name “feral swine.”

“Everything is wide open on feral swine outside those six western counties,” Stanford said. “Our agency for a long time has not seen them as a desirable species on the landscape.”

Saying so publicly is a big step for the Wildlife Commission, however, which until now has been swayed by hunting interests when it comes to wild boar in the mountains.

“In that part of the state it is a traditional big game species that has been hunted for generations,” Stanford said.

The Wildlife Commission had attempted to balance interests of wild boar hunters with the ecological harm wrought by the species. But it now seems poised to buck pressure from the hunting community and shed the special status for wild boar that had persisted in the far western mountains.

“I think that was a fight we thought at one time we could not win,” Stanford said. “It seems the tradition of hunting wild boar has been waning, at least compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago.”

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where hunting isn’t allowed anyway and the ecosystem always comes first, was alone in its admitted mission to eradicate wild boar until recently. The Smokies has made an impressive dent in the wild hog population by trapping. Realistically, they’ll never get rid of them completely, but hope to keep them in check.

“It is definitely a daunting task, given the manpower and the amount of area we have,” said Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist in the national park. But, “We have kept the pressure on.”

Until recently, however, the Smokies begrudgingly turned over some of the boar it trapped to the U.S. Forest Service, which in turn set them free in the Nantahala National Forest. The Smokies’ more rugged stock of wild boar is particularly desired by the hunting community, which pressured the forest service to save the wild boar from the Smokies’ traps and release them in the forest. The practice wasn’t ended until 2005.

 

Rogue introductions

Fringe elements in the hunting community have been doing their part to keep the species alive and well in the state, albeit illegally. Rogue hunters are suspected of releasing hogs and pigs into the forests to boost the feral swine population and counter efforts to eradicate them.

While no one has been caught in the act, Stiver has encountered feral swine in the wild with pale skin, curly tails, smooth skin, even spots — signs of domestic pigs rather than the course-haired, tusked feral cousins.

“Historically wild boar in the park were traditionally black. They had that Russian look. But in recent years we’ve seen hogs with much shorter snouts, with much shorter legs, animals that appear to be semi-domesticated,” Stiver said. “They just stand there. They had no fear of people as if they had been in a pen and then been let loose.”

That, more so than pigs accidentally escaping from farmers, is how the population of feral swine has spread across the state.

“In most instances the population is established by individuals intentionally releasing feral swine with the intention of establishing a population that could be hunted,” Stanford said.

It has been illegal to release swine into the wild for several years, but it technically wasn’t illegal to move them.

“Individuals could trap swine and move them up and down the roadways and there was no violation involved,” Stanford said.

That loophole was closed with a new state law this year, banning the transport of live hogs without identification approved by the state veterinarian, so now only hog farmers can legally transport their livestock.

The law also prohibits the removal of live feral hogs from traps. Anyone trapping a feral hog has to kill it inside the trap before opening the door — removing any doubt over whether “relocating” feral swine versus “releasing” them is legal or not. It also gives wildlife officers more ammunition to crack down on rogue introductions.

Oddly, an open season on feral swine — allowing hunters to shoot as many as they want year-round — can backfire. Those who like hunting feral swine are tempted to set out new animals to keep the population viable and huntable.

 

Some states are trying a novel solution

In Tennessee, hunting wild boar was outlawed this year for most parts of the state.

“The strategy we are going after is pretty radical, but a very aggressive approach at eradicating hogs across the state,” said Grey Anderson, a wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Commission. “It is a little against the grain. The traditional method is to liberalize your season, and then you get more hunters and it reduces the population.”

But Tennessee found that quite the opposite played out on the ground. After changing its wild hog hunting rules in 1999 — lifting the bag limits and allowing year-round hunting — the population actually increased. The reason is no surprise: hunters launched rogue campaign of illegally releasing hogs in the wild, resulting in more feral swine instead of less, Anderson said.

“It was counter productive to what we were trying to do,” Anderson said.

Kansas was the first to try the alternative strategy, and Tennessee decided it was worth a try. Hunters aren’t too pleased, however.

“We are getting a ton of pushback now,” Anderson said.

Now that hunting wild hogs is illegal, the Tennessee Wildlife Commission has started trapping and killing them itself. Without hunters propagating the species, however, Anderson believes the agency will be able to make a dent in the population.

There is one exception to Tennessee’s new policy. In the mountains of East Tennessee around the Smokies, wild boar hunting is still allowed under some circumstances. If hunters are hunting bear or deer and come across wild hogs, they are allowed to shoot them.

“If your bear dogs get on a hog trail you can take them,” Anderson said.

The reason is a familiar one: a storied tradition of wild boar hunting in the mountains.

“They have been hunting wild hogs in that part of the world that we know of since the early 1900s. There is a very strong tradition of hunting,”Anderson said, Agricultural interests are backing North Carolina’s crack down on feral swine. Feral swine carry lethal diseases, including several documented cases of pseudrabies.

“They are tremendous risk to our domestic livestock and swine industry,” Stanford said.

 

Going native

Most of the feral swine in the state are descendants of domestic hogs turned out by early settlers to graze on the open range, or in more recent decades, animals that have been purposely released. After a few generations in the wild, they start to sport hair and tusks.

“In as soon as three generations they can start to develop some of the feral traits,” Stanford said. “They start to revert relatively quickly.”

Wild boar lineage is unique in the far western mountains, however. Here, their ancestry can be traced back to the true European wild boar.

A stock of European wild boar was imported by a hunting preserve in 1912 in the Hooper’s Bald area of the Smokies. In 1920, they all escaped, with estimates ranging from 60 to 100 of the beasts.

This genetic line still lingers in mountain wild boar, but has been dramatically watered down by domestic swine injected into the population.

Feral swine are unfortunate proliferators. Mothers have five to six young a year on average, and in a bumper year for acorns or other food mainstays, they can have two litters a year. They are fertile at just a year old.

The young pigs stick close to their giant mothers, and probably have pretty low mortality from predators such as coyotes or bobcat, Stanford said. As adults, humans are their only enemy.

Bradley, who has hunted wild boar on game lands in Swain and Jackson counties, said it is a challenge to hunt them, mostly because you can’t find them. They don’t frequent the same place day after day. They come through, eat, then move on.

“You can go out there for an entire season and never see a single one. You will see the remnants of them, where they have torn the woods up,” Bradley said. But, “It may be weeks before they come back through there.”

Bradley is no stranger to hogs. His family ran a hog farm and slaughter house in Jackson County for 100 years, going back four generations. He is the first to agree feral swine are destructive.

“When they tear it up, they tear it up big time. They come through like a carpet roller,” Bradley said.

Bradley believes the N.C. Wildlife Commission is giving in to political pressure from the growing number of upscale subdivisions in the mountains pushing into the forest habitats, and then complaining about the animals in their yards.

“You got a lot of influx of people and they want to change the rules to suit their lifestyle,” Bradley said.

Wildlife Commission reaffirms support for hunting with dogs

The Commissioners of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission unanimously adopted a resolution recently reaffirming the agency’s longstanding support for hunting with the use of dogs.

“We support the use of dogs in hunting in North Carolina where such hunting is consistent with the sound conservation of our state’s treasured wildlife resources and not contrary to the protection of the private property rights of its citizens,” said Gordon Myers, executive director of the commission. “Hunting with dogs is part of a centuries old tradition in North Carolina and the members of the Wildlife Resources Commission determined that it was important to clarify their position regarding those practices.”

The partnership of hunters and hunting dogs, commissioners affirmed, has long been a central thread of North Carolina hunting culture, and thousands of hunters – young and old – use dogs to pursue grouse and quail, waterfowl and woodcock, deer and bear, rabbits and squirrels, and foxes and bobcats, and raccoons and opossums.

“The members of the Wildlife Resources Commission looks forward to continuing its successful record of working with multiple partners to provide opportunities for hunters to use dogs on state and private lands where feasible and appropriate,” said Commission Chairman Steve Windham.

For more information on hunting in North Carolina or for a copy of the resolution, visit www.ncwildlife.org.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
SUPPORT THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS AND
INDEPENDENT, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM
Go to top
Payment Information

/

At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.