Having already passed the House by a huge margin, the “Pork Chopper” bill, House Bill 716, lost some momentum today when it arrived in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. Witnesses and committee members alike voiced concerns over the bill, which authorizes hunters to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters.
Officials estimate that there are 2 to 3 million feral hogs in Texas that are responsible for approximately $400 million in damage to land and crops every year. In recent years the problem of feral hogs has spread from rural areas to suburbs and highways.
Texas landowners are already allowed to hire professional companies to shoot animals on their own land from helicopters. This bill changes the game by letting landowners sell extra seats in those helicopters to recreational hunters. Because nothing screams “sportsman” like blasting at hogs from a heli, right?
The bill’s original author, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, says that the measure will help landowners recoup some of the costs of renting the helicopters.
But allowing recreational hunters to take their hobby to the skies may violate federal law, which does not allow sport hunting from the air. Mike Bodenchuk, state director for the USDA’s Texas Wildlife Services, has said that if the bill passes he’s not sure it will hold up under federal scrutiny.
A state official reiterated that message this morning. “States may not issue permits for purpose of sport hunting,” Scott Vaca, assistant chief of wildlife at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the committee. “If you are paying to go hunt, we consider that sport hunting.”
A very similar bill authored by Miller passed the House last session but failed to make it through the Senate due to concerns that other animals might inadvertently be shot along with the feral hogs. This time, Miller specifically identifies coyotes, as well as hogs, as the targets of his bill—a provision opponents argue should be removed because coyotes do not create the same level of destruction to land and crops as feral hogs.
But senators weren’t just concerned for coyotes. Questions arose on everything from responsibility over the carcasses to why the hunting is permitted at night to just who can shoot from the helicopter.
“It can’t be a convicted felon,” Vaca said of that last concern. “Beyond that, it’s up to helicopter company. It’s also up to company to do any training.”
“This bill really doesn’t have any rules of engagement,” said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock. “What happens if you kill 100 hogs on the property? What happens if you don’t pick them up?”
The bill was left pending while senators work on a revised version—a committee substitute—that would satisfy the committee’s concerns.