Two southern Missouri state lawmakers are unhappy with a letter the state Department of Agriculture (MDA) director has sent to the U.S. Forest Service, in support of their decision to close the Mark Twain National Forest to feral hog hunting.

State Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, speaks at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City on August 22, 2019 (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

The issue came up during Monday afternoon’s Missouri House Budget Committee hearing in Jefferson City, when State Reps. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, and Scott Cupps, R-Shell Knob, mentioned the issue to MDA Director Chris Chinn, during her budget presentation.

Chinn testifies that Oklahoma has gone away from an approach Missouri was using, including hunting.

“One of the things that we learned from them (Oklahoma) is that, that above-all approach that we had been taking, they had tried as well and it didn’t work,” Chinn tells Representative Ross.

“Especially not when your (Missouri) Department of Conservation is actively working against the private landowners,” Ross responded.

The above-all approach that Director Chinn is referring to is a policy that some hunters and ranchers near the Mark Twain National Forest want to continue. It involved trapping by Conservation officials, but also hunting by residents.

Ross, who chairs the House Special Committee on Government Oversight, serves on the Budget Committee. He questions Chinn’s letter.

“That’s what really surprised me is that your agency (MDA) would take a position that was in directly in opposition of working with the private landowners, following along with the misguided approach the Missouri Department of Conservation is now pushing,” Ross tells Director Chinn.

Ross says his Texas County constituents support eradicating feral hogs, by hunting. He and Cupps say residents should be allowed to hunt for the hogs on public land.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says allowing residents to hunt feral hogs has increased the number of the animals, along with their range. Conservation agents say there have been illegal releases by people who wanted to hunt feral hogs for recreation.

The Conservation Department has launched a new plan, which aims to eliminate feral hog damage by trapping and killing the hogs themselves.

Director Chinn says feral hogs are a threat to Missouri livestock. She backs the Forest Service’s decision to close the Mark Twain National Forest to feral hog hunting.

Chinn testifies that MDA’s job, through its Animal Health division, is to protect Missouri from diseases. She says if African swine fever were to hit Missouri through the feral hog population, it would be a threat to livestock producers and agribusiness.

“A lot of these livestock eat the corn and the soybean that are raised on many of these farms, and if we should have a disease threat like that hit Missouri, it’s not only going to hurt the livestock industry, it’s going to hit our row crop as well as our grain elevators,” Chinn testifies.

Chinn emphasizes that what’s been done previously isn’t working.

After several minutes of questioning, State Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Appropriations for Agriculture, asked Ross and Cupps to save the feral hog discussion for another date, when both MDA and the Conservation Department can attend. Kelly wanted Chinn to have time to present her budget.

The issue has been a big one at the Missouri Capitol. Just last week, about 150 southern Missouri hunters and ranchers protested quietly outside the governor’s office, saying the MDC-federal approach won’t work.

Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s interview with Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) Director Chris Chinn, which was recorded at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City on January 27, 2020:

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