December 09, 2019
From Wildlife Forever
Think about the causes of wildlife habitat destruction. What comes to mind? Usually, the first thought is man has done something to screw up things. Industrial pollution, runoff, unchecked development, perhaps climate change. However, there is massive wildlife habitat destruction that continues to take place in the United States, but man is not the culprit. Rather, the destruction comes from wild pigs.
The species is a big problem—not only for wildlife habitat but also for agricultural crops, pastureland and timberland. It’s so big, in fact, that the new federal farm bill contains $75 million to combat these destructive animals.
Feral hogs. Swine. Razorbacks. The names are numerous. More than 30 states have populations of wild pigs, but the south-central and southeastern U.S. are the major problem areas.
Feral pigs are an invasive species. Their domestic ancestors initially were brought to the New World by explorers and other European settlers as a food source. Wild boars were also transported and introduced into the forests of America for sport hunting. They bred with other wild sows and with escaped domestic pigs, forming the source that led to today’s problem pigs.
Money from the new farm bill will initially focus on demonstration projects in the states most impacted by wild hog densities and destruction: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. The Federal Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program is being led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS will lead in eradicating and controlling wild hogs. The NRCS will lead the restoration effort. Partnerships with non-federal agencies will make up the third leg of the project stool.
Arkansas’ NRCS State Conservationist Mike Sullivan explained what to expect with the farm bill funding. “This is a brand-new authority with additional funding. APHIS will be bolstering their staff to do control activities and their research component,” Sullivan said. “We’ll use our existing authorities to do the restoration practices after control has been demonstrated. And we’ll be working through partners and partner agreements to provide additional trapping services and financial assistance to producers who participate. We have four potential pilot projects.”
A rough estimate indicates there are 300,000 to 500,000 wild hogs in Arkansas. The goal is to reduce feral hog numbers by 80 percent. An ambitious plan, especially when hogs can reproduce several times a year. As their numbers have grown, the estimated row-crop loss is $19 million annually. The damage extends far beyond ag losses.
A lifelong biologist, Luke Lewis is an assistant chief of wildlife management for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and oversees the agency’s feral hog efforts. “Hogs are definitely a problem for timber companies,” he said. “They’ll root up freshly planted pine seedlings to eat the roots. Those seedlings are fertilized, and the hogs go right to them.”
Hogs tear up the ground and anything they encounter, including ground-nesting birds’ eggs like turkeys and quail. A few rooting hogs will completely destroy a wildlife food plot.
“We spent 18,000 man-hours last year trapping and working on hog issues,” Lewis said. Hogs are trapped live in baited corral-like structures. “Our biologists are now saying hogs are becoming such a problem that it’s more difficult to successfully implement on-the-ground management activities because of hog damage.”
Farmers and wildlife agencies agree when it comes to reducing and controlling the wild hog population.
“Ninety percent of the land these hogs are tearing up is privately owned,” Lewis said. “If we’re to have any success, we’re going to have to work with private landowners, especially farmers. It’s going to take all of us to be successful.”
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