OKLAHOMA CITY — A lawmaker championing the regulation of feral hog trappers and sellers said Monday that he’s received threats in response to his proposal.
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, said one opponent left a voice message at his Capitol office stating, “I will hunt you down, and you will be shot." Another wrote an online post that, “I hope he has extra security.”
“(They) thought they could influence this process by death threats,” he said. “They’re threatened because I’m trying to solve an issue over feral hogs.”
After more than two hours of impassioned discussion, amid tightened security at the Capitol, lawmakers ultimately voted to send Biggs' bill to the slaughterhouse, though he reserved the right to bring it up again later.
Biggs and Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, were championing the measure to require the tagging and blood testing of live feral pigs captured in the wild before they are shipped or sold to others.
Biggs said captive feral hogs are the only livestock in the state that don't require testing to change ownership.
“Tagging and testing isn’t an unreasonable requirement,” he argued, noting that feral hogs spread diseases including pseudorabies — a swine disease that is a type of the herpes virus. Rampant in all of Oklahoma's 77 counties, they threaten to expose commercial swineherds and youth agricultural projects with deadly diseases, he said.
Debate over the proposal pitted the safety of the state’s multi-million dollar swine industry against individual rights.
But Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, a veterinarian, said many animal doctors in the state have no interest in touching a feral hog to sample its blood because it is too dangerous. As one veterinarian put it, Renegar said, “he still has too many mortgages to pay."
Renegar, who told legislators that swine are his passion, said the measure does nothing to control the burgeoning feral hog population and threatens the livelihoods of those who legally trap the wild hogs for a living.
“Why do they want to put people in harm’s way? Because wild pigs are very, very aggressive and dangerous,” said Justin White, with Chain Ranch Outfitters near Canton. The ranch is one of more than a dozen sporting camps that purchase hogs trapped by Oklahomans, then release them on secure acreage, where people from across the world travel to the state and pay to hunt and kill them.
“Whenever they try to enforce this testing and tagging, that makes us get in there (the pen or cage) with it,” White said. “As of now, you can back up to your trap, load them in the trailer, never touch them. But when you pull the blood testing and the tagging, that makes us handle them animals and puts us closer to harm’s way. Nobody wants to do that.”
Last year hunters killed nearly 30,000 feral hogs at licensed sporting facilities, said Matthew Napper, owner of Shiloh Ranch Hunting Camps near Stonewall.
He said no one would be willing to invest time and money in trapping feral hogs if the state removes the financial incentive.
One trapper, he said, paid $5,600 for two pig traps. The cost of an organized hog hunt in Oklahoma starts in the low hundreds. The final cost depends on the type of hunt and how many pigs are killed.
White and Napper were among more than a dozen people who attended the lengthy debate, keenly interested in the outcome as their livelihoods were at stake. White wore a camouflage sticker that read “If you wear camouflage vote no.”
Napper said he heard suggestions that sport camp owners may be responsible for the threats against Biggs, though he noted that no action had been taken against anyone that he knew of.
He said he also witnessed the incident in which Biggs accused a man of accosting him and said the man simply touched the legislator’s arm to get his attention.
“We think sometimes it may be theatrics, too,” he said.