By JAY ROOT Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas hunters could soon be able to book trips on helicopters to shoot wild hogs and coyotes under a plan approved by lawmakers Monday that would dramatically expand the state's strict rules on aerial hunting.
The bill, which passed the Texas House on a 137-9 vote, would allow landowners to sell seats on helicopters for such hunts. Estimates show that as many as 3.4 million feral hogs roam Texas, and bill sponsor Rep. Sid Miller of Stephenville argued that aerial hunting is the most effective way to control the animals.
The hogs — which sometimes weigh more than 300 pounds — destroy crops, trample fences and eat anything in their path, causing an estimated $400 million a year in damage.
Miller said he decided to add coyotes to the legislation after hearing reports from frightened homeowners who aren't accustomed to seeing them.
"They've ... started encroaching in the urban areas, people are losing pets and they're coming up in their yards," Miller said.
Under current rules, Texans can pay a contractor to conduct helicopter hunts over their land. In 2010, there were 116 active permits for aerial hunting, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Tom Harvey.
Bobcats, red foxes, wild dogs and various non-native "exotic" animals also can be hunted from the skies under the program, Harvey said.
The bill that passed Monday would allow landowners to take money from hunters who go up in the helicopters to hunt either feral hogs or coyotes, potentially making a profit.
Rep. Eddie Lucio, a Democrat from Brownsville who voted against the measure, said it was the wrong way to deal with a serious problem.
"It's making a business out of shooting animals out of a helicopter," Lucio said. "They're allowing them to sell those hunts, market those hunts...that's not sport. That's not hunting. That's not the Texas way."