The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced a pair of guilty pleas in cases involving numerous charges with wild hogs in Moore and Lewis counties in Middle Tennessee.
These are thought to be the first such cases prosecuted since a new law governing wild hog transport went into effect July 1 of this year.
Dr. Stacy Smith, a veterinarian from Lynchburg, pleaded guilty to 16 counts of illegal possession of wildlife. He also pleaded guilty to failure to use an approved source, failure to maintain records for a preserve, violation of a quarantine order and criminal conspiracy. The veterinarian received a total of $4,944 in fines and court costs.
Timothy Chapman of Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., pleaded guilty to seven counts of illegal possession of wildlife. He received fines and court costs totaling $1,654 and loss of his hunting and trapping privileges for one year.
Investigation and prosecution involved TWRA's special undercover unit. Otherwise, a TWRA spokesperson declined to provide any details about the cases. Nor was there a clear explanation of why the agency waited so long to issue a news release. Smith pleaded guilty on Aug. 7, nearly four months before the release went out.
"We became an example for them and their new law," Smith said. "I thought it was done and over, and then they sent this [news release] out. If they can live with it, I guess I can live with it. They set out to make a point, and I just got caught up in it."
Smith said he operated a small, legally permitted hunting preserve on about 100 acres of land.
"It was just a hobby for me, not a main source of income," said the veterinarian. "We didn't charge a lot for hunts and did a lot of free hunts for kids with cancer and other kids' hunts."
Smith said he shut down the preserve in January of this year and sold "about 100 hogs" to another hunting preserve. He said the charges against him involved just nine of the hogs he had purchased in November 2011, but he declined to go into more detail.
"If I told what all happened, I feel like they'd come after me for something else," Smith said. "They can basically do what they want to do up in [those] offices. That's one thing I learned."
The illegal transportation and release of wild hogs has been a focus of the wildlife agency's efforts for two years, resulting in dramatic changes in wildlife laws—changes that brought significant protests from many hunters.
"They make out like these hogs are a real problem, but I think it's over-exaggerated. I don't know about you, but I drive around the country a lot, and I've never seen one running around wild," Smith said.
Biologists, however, say they have documented many cases where they think hogs have been released by hunters. They say the hogs cause extensive damage to farm crops and wildlife habitat, contribute to extreme erosion and stream pollution, and carry diseases harmful to livestock or other animals—as well as humans.
Environmental problems caused by wild hogs in the Great Smoky Mountains were documented decades ago. Because hunting isn't allowed there, the National Park Service employs a professional "hog eradication team."
The new law provides strict guidelines for possession and transport of what are called "wild-appearing swine," a phrase that seems surprisingly subjective to be a legal term. The Tennessee state veterinarian defines it this way:
"Wild-appearing swine" means swine that are typically 2 to 3 feet tall and 3-and-a-half to 5 feet long and typically have the following physical features (all comparisons are to domestic swine): massive heads with smaller, pointed and heavily furred ears; heavier shoulders that slope down to small hips, giving the animal an outline similar to an American bison; long and thin snouts; upper tucks or whitters that curl up and out and rub against lower tucks, making a knifelike edge against lower tusks; and straight tails that are tufted at the tip.
Under the order, all "wild-appearing swine" being moved within the state must have one of the following:
—State or federally approved individual identification and proof that each hog has tested negative for pseudo-rabies and brucellosis within 90 days of movement.
—Proof that each individual hog originated from a validated brucellosis-free and qualified pseudo-rabies-negative herd.
—A movement authorization number from the state veterinarian’s office.
Authorities are now offering a $3,500 reward for information leading to a conviction of anyone dealing in the sale, illegal transportation and/or stocking of wild hogs.
Asked his opinion of the new law, Smith said, "I don't think my opinion really matters ... It's done and over; just let it die."
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.