April 27, 2015
Much has been written and said about the invasion of wild hogs across the U.S. It’s a point of contention, but also of serious concern because the animals are prolific, wide-ranging, and non-native. Not only are they a potential threat to agriculture, they’re living (and well) in an environment that did not evolve with them. While that may prove not to be quite the catastrophe that some would have us believe, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
Insulated as many of us are in America, we don’t often think much about wild boar in other places. Sure, a handful of hunters may daydream of a driven hunt in Hungary, or a day afield with the Jaegermeister for big, German boar, but what about places like, say, England?
Wild boar were indigenous to Great Britain, and lived in the “wild” until somewhere around the 13th or 14th century, at which point they appear to have been wiped out. Before that, however, they must have had a pretty good run. It’s interesting (to me at least) that if you take a look at medieval literature, heraldry, and even place names, the wild boar had a pretty prominent position throughout parts of Britain, often inspiring awe and terror. Boar hunting was often depicted as a feat of courage, and occasionally, the root of tragedy.
Efforts to restore the wild boar were stymied over the centuries, as the people generally saw the animals as agricultural pests and quickly destroyed them. Wealthy nobles, and even kings (James 1 and Charles 1, notably) imported boar from France to try to reestablish wild swine, but the good farmers and villagers were apparently not having it. By the 1970s, wild boar in England were considered dangerous animals, and restricted to specially permitted zoological parks. Certain farmers have also imported animals from Europe to raise in captivity, again, under strict regulation and controls.
Still, around 1998, at least two herds of wild boar had “mysteriously” reestablished themselves in parts of Britain, and those herds have continued to grow and prosper, despite efforts to hunt and manage them. In the Forest of Dean, the animals have become a point of serious contention, as agricultural interests (as well as concerned citizens) call for a cull and management, while some environmentalists and animal rights factions call for them to be allowed to return to their native habitat and live their lives in “peace.”
I think it’s an interesting parallel to the situation with feral hogs in the US, and I’m betting there are lessons there for agricultural and wildlife management experts on this side of The Pond… if anyone will take the time to study them. Of particular interest to me, a confessed layman when it comes to wildlife biology and ecology, is the arguments in Britain that suggest the wild boar should be permitted to roam free, as they provide a benefit to the ecosystem. I certainly recognize the potential differences between a native species restored to its habitat and a non-native, but the layman in me struggles with how activities such as rooting to aerate and mix soil nutrients can be beneficial in one woodland, and detrimental in another (especially considering the broad distribution across the Old World in widely diversified habitats).
One aspect of the return of wild boar to Britain that correlates perfectly with the feral hogs in the U.S. is the terror these animals appear to invoke amongst the largely urbanized and domesticated human population. Every week, my news feeds bring me at least one more article depicting a “horrifying” encounter between people and hogs in the English countryside. “Attacks” are documented, almost always involving a dog, innocently strolling down the path with its people, drawing the “unwarranted” ire of a wild boar. This is great for the sensationalist media, of course, but what sort of representation of reality is it? I can’t help thinking of the glowing, red eyes of the “demon boar” on a Discovery Channel special… and the terrified testimony of suburbanites whose children were “threatened” by these deadly beasts. Who will save the children?
Of course, wild boar can be dangerous, and far be it from me to unwittingly pooh-pooh the concerns of the citizens in a place I’ve never visited. I do know that, along with my feeds about the English hogs, I receive regular reports from India, Pakistan, and Malaysia about unprovoked, wild boar attacks on villagers and farmers… some of them fatal. Of course, as one might expect, news from rural areas in such places is sometimes questionable, both in detail and fact. “Unprovoked” may take a different meaning in the wake of tragedy, and it is hardly unusual to demonize the attacking beasts instead of logically considering all of the circumstances and evidence. But again, this is me, sitting in my comfortable office, with my nice computer, far from the place where these things are happening. I could be wrong.
At any rate, all of this is by way of me finding this stuff interesting. I’d love to be independently wealthy and able to travel the world to find these wild boar stories first hand… to maybe become another Jim Corbett, except instead of leopards and tigers, I’ll protect the villages from marauding wild boar. You would think the days of those stories are over, but I think maybe, only the cast of characters has changed.
March 17, 2015
This is not a new discussion here, but this recent article out of South Carolina made me think it was worth trotting back out.
It appears that the hog problem in the Francis Marion National Forest has gotten bad enough that the land managers have decided to bring in some professional hunters. And, as always seems to happen, this decision has generated some uproar from the sport hunters (or recreational hunters, or whatever you choose to call them).
To the sport hunters, it’s a question of fairness, and they argue that the SC DNR should be focused on expanding opportunities for the public, instead of paying someone to do what the hunters suggest that they would do “for free”. But in the article, the DNR offers what I think is a pretty solid response:
“We don’t treat hogs as game animals. We want them eradicated. That’s the difference between a hog hunt and a removal,” said Sam Chappelear, a regional wildlife coordinator for the agency.
It’s an old conflict, and I’ve seen it play out all over the country. A state has nuisance animals to remove. Sport hunters jump and say, “let us do it! We’ll pay for the opportunity, instead of paying professionals to do the same job!”
Sometimes, it does make sense to open hunting opportunities to non-professionals. As many municipalities have learned, bringing in sport hunters to help manage deer populations in suburban or semi-rural areas can be an effective method to thin localized, dense herds. There are certification programs, training, and other methods used to make sure these hunters are safe and conscientious (and accountable). In general, this solution seems to work well for both the communities and the hunters.
But there’s a big difference between some relatively light “thinning”, and the need to eradicate or sharply reduce an entire population, especially when it comes to feral hogs. Here are a few points that many sport hunters don’t consider… or don’t understand.
- It’s not going to be enough to hunt a couple of hours at daybreak and sunset on your days off. Eradication requires an all day, every day (and some nights) effort until the pigs are gone.
- It’s not enough to find the easy trails, or sit in a blind/stand. When the dumb pigs are gone, you have to get in there deep to get the smart ones.
- It’s not enough to shoot a couple of good “meat pigs” or a trophy boar. Eradication means killing everything, from the big, stinking boars to the itty-bitty, striped babies… and getting it done as quickly as possible, before the sows have a chance to drop more itty-bitty, striped babies that will grow up and make even more.
- It’s not enough to send random hunters into the field to shoot at and scatter the sounders. Eradication requires a coordinated effort with a plan.
I can relate to the frustration of the sport hunters. When I was living in CA, I remember well the issues at Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton with hogs tearing up sensitive habitat, and even wreaking havoc in the parks. Like many other local hunters, I was chomping at the bit for the State to come up with a solution that would allow hunters to pursue these hogs. And, honestly, in the case of the hogs at Mt. Hamilton, I think sport hunters could have played a positive role in pushing the pigs out of the park… or at least in keeping the pressure on them to reduce their impact.
But the State has other considerations, not the least of which is liability. California’s reputation for litigiousness is well deserved. The donnybrook that would likely occur if hunters were turned loose in a State Park, that close to major population centers is staggering to imagine. Who needs that? A few trappers, moving in quietly and setting up in the wee hours do a better job with less visibility… and less risk.
Sport hunters are a significant asset to certain wildlife population control programs. There’s little doubt about that, and recently documented declines in whitetail overpopulation in the Southeast offer some measurable proof (although the numbers are only for a couple of years, and the trend could easily reverse) that liberal limits and lots of hunters can make a difference. That’s great. But when it comes to wiping out a prolific, non-native invasive species, we’re just not the right tool for the job.
February 2, 2015
According to this (decidedly short on detail) article from High Plains Public radio, the USDA is talking about a need to manage feral hogs from a federal level, in order to mitigate the potential for large-scale impacts.
Lee (Charlie Lee, wildlife manager from Kansas State University Research and Extension) went on to say, “unless steps are taken, we could have a major train wreck because of the disease threats that feral hogs pose to our domestic swine operations, and the ecological damage will continue.”
The short piece mentioned that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is looking into possible solutions, which include sport hunting. I’m glad to see sport hunters included in the consideration.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about a national-level program to manage feral hogs.
On the one hand, it might alleviate some of the disparity in how different states treat the animals. Consider, for example, that Texas basically considers them vermin and allows eradication tactics commensurate with that designation. Dogs, knives, bows, or BB guns… just kill ’em all! While hog hunting is a growing industry on Texas hunting ranches, residents of the Lone Star State are encouraged to treat hogs like rats, and kill or trap them at every opportunity. In many cases, hogs are shot on sight, and left to rot in the field… which sounds like a shame, until you understand just how many hogs there are. You can only eat so many, and unlike venison, food banks can’t accept feral swine.
Compare that to California’s approach of designating feral hogs as a “game animal,” requiring expensive tags and restricted methods of take. Many hog hunters in CA limit themselves to one or two tags per year, and with the costs of hunting hogs on private property climbing steadily, the impact of sport hunters on the feral hog population is marginal. And while depredation permits are fairly easy to get, many landowners recognize a cash value to keeping a population of hogs on their land, in order to attract paying hunters.
But the truth is, neither state seems to be making much headway in reducing or managing the spread of feral hogs. According to most experts, once you have an established population of feral hogs, you need to kill about 70% of that population annually in order to just maintain stasis. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is to move them around… temporarily drive them out of targeted areas with hunting and trapping pressure.
Maybe a consistent, nationwide approach, led by the USDA is the answer?
What could possibly go wrong?
January 27, 2015
Funny this should be going on just now, as I’m setting my sights on the move from TX back to the old stomping grounds in NC, but there you go.
First, I read about this monstrosity, taken in northern Texas. Yeah, read the article and you’ll see that these fellas caught (not shot, but caught) a 790 pound boar hog! That’s one, big, pig!
From the article:
“When I first saw him, Blaine’s dog looked like an earring or some kind of jewelry hanging off the hog’s head, but it really wasn’t until we got ahold of the hog that I realized how big and powerful this animal was,” Walton said. “We’ve tied hundreds of hogs and there has never been anything like this boar.”
I bet! Anyway, that not-so-little piggy is going to market (pending veterinary exam to verify no parasites or disease).
And then there was this big sucker, from North Carolina, 707 pounds!
I don’t know what’s going on, but wild hogs in this weight class are supposed to be pretty rare. Makes me want to load up the .325wsm and get out there!
January 26, 2015
Not hilarious, necessarily, but funny… and then, probably only in the context of the article and video.
The Daily Mirror shared this article and the attached video of a wild boar apparently running amuck in a South Korean restaurant.
Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video, but it’s worth watching. You also have to read the breathlessly, hyperbolic article though. Wild boar on the menu, indeed.
And then, please respond to the survey at the end of the article. I’m wondering if you could guess my answer.
Sorry for the brevity of this post. There's more substantial content coming... sometime.
January 16, 2015
I know I’ve called this out before, but one of the biggest threats that feral hogs present is the risk of disease that can affect livestock. While I know they can do some environmental damage, I can’t help the feeling that it’s often overstated. And I refuse to believe that feral hogs present any more danger to humans than most other wild animals, despite the hype heaped upon them by some media sources.
But one case of something like brucellosis, or pseudorabies, can shut down an entire farm and result in the liquidation of the entire herd. If the outbreak spreads to multiple animals, it can shut down an entire region, resulting in significant economic disruption. In short, it seems to me that this is the aspect of the feral hog invasion that we should all be talking about.
But with all that said, I don’t think I ever knew that pseudorabies also presents a deadly threat to dogs. However, this article from Arkansas provides a harsh reminder that this disease is nothing to mess around with. It’s something my friends who run hog dogs should pay close attention to, as well as a warning to those of you who have dogs in feral hog country.
While there are some vaccines available for domestic livestock (pseudorabies was declared “eradicated” on US farms in 2004), there’s nothing out there for Fido. According to various resources I’ve been able to look up, it’s usually fatal within two to three days, although some dogs will survive. The best protection is to keep your dog away from feral hogs, including keeping them from eating the uncooked meat or offal.
This isn’t to say that pseudorabies is out there lurking in every hog you encounter. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be particularly common… although reports seem to be turning up on a regular basis around the country. In addition to the sick hogs in Arkansas, pseudorabies was recently found in hogs released in Oklahoma. I don’t know if this represents an uptick in cases, but it should be enough to get our attention.
The disease is transmitted primarily by nose-to-nose or fecal-oral contact. This puts hog dogs at particular risk, but any dog that spends time where hogs have roamed can be affected. Also, as mentioned previously, the disease can also be transmitted through the raw meat and offal of infected swine.
The most common symptoms of pseudorabies infection are similar to regular rabies. The initial symptom is uncontrollable itching, referred to as the “mad itch,” sometimes accompanied by howling or whining. This is followed by hyper-salivation (drooling or “foaming” at the mouth). The next phase involves neurological impacts that can include paralysis of the jaw or neck, sometimes leading to convulsions. Death is relatively quick, and sometimes comes before the symptoms have even manifested.
Fortunately, so far, pseudorabies is not a threat to humans. However, feral hogs are known to carry other diseases that are dangerous to man. I’m the last one to recommend the use of protective gear while dressing and butchering game (because I don’t use it myself), but most game departments and health experts warn hog hunters to use gloves for the messy work, and wash thoroughly when we’re done.
Anyway, I just thought this was something worth sharing on a Friday.
Now, I just wish I could get out there somewhere and hunt myself a (disease free) hog!
January 12, 2015
A new year always brings new regulations to fish and game departments around the country. North Carolina, for example, is holding public meetings now to discuss new captive cervid laws, intended to provide safeguards against disease, such as CWD. Louisiana is looking at changes, such as adjustments to hunting regulations to allow handguns during primitive weapons seasons, while Georgia hunters are asked to provide comment on proposals that include switching over to a single, statewide deer season.
While most states are working on regulations to manage the wildlife they already have, Montana is making plans to keep some wildlife out of the state altogether. On tap in the Big Sky state is a proposal to ban the possession, import, or hunting of wild hogs.
Under Senate Bill 100, the Board of Livestock would have the authority to ban the possession and hunting of wild hogs and could establish penalties for those not abiding by the rules. The board could also control and eradicate the animals.
So far, Montana is one of 11 states that have not reported a population of wild (or feral) hogs, and both wildlife officials and the livestock industry want to keep it that way. A primary concern is disease, such as brucellosis or pseudorabies, which could infect domestic stock with catastrophic effects.
And why do Montanans think such a law is justified? Well, we continue to see Adam Henry award candidates, like Wesley Dean Kirton, of Oklahoma, who think it’s a great idea to import and release feral hogs to provide a hunting opportunity, as well as to “train” his hog dogs. According to officials, some of the hogs he released onto his 40 acre farm tested positive for pseudorabies. This is no small thing, seeing as how the area of Oklahoma where this took place is also the home of most of the domestic swine farms in the state.
“It will have an impact on the industry itself and cause our prices internationally to go down nationwide and also prevent exports and just the price to go up,” Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture Dr. Justin Roach said.
It’s no secret that the biggest reason feral hogs have spread so widely and so rapidly across the US is transport and release, both legal and illegal, by hunting interests (in some cases, the states themselves actively relocated and encouraged populations of wild hogs). While I can see that, early on, some folks didn’t realize that releasing hogs into the native habitat was problematic, those days are passed. The publicity around the “pig bomb” has been widespread, and claims of ignorance no longer garner sympathetic acceptance. It’s not an “innocent mistake” to turn an invasive, non-native species loose into the environment.
I know it’s a bit of a pipedream, but I long for the day when new regulations are based solely on wildlife management issues, and not in response to hunters behaving badly.
October 15, 2014
So, this is worth sharing, particularly for any of my readers who might be located down in the Peach State.
From the press release:
October 14, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Boars. Wild hogs. Feral Pigs. No matter the term, hogs can be a big problem. Especially for landowners who depend on their property to supply crops that provide for their livelihood. Hunters Helping Farmers is a new program combining the efforts of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to help alleviate the agricultural and financial damage caused by these non-native invasive pests.
“It is a natural fit to connect hunters and farmers together to try and help solve this growing problem, says Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. ‘”In no way will this be a silver bullet, but hopefully one small way we can help assist in this huge issue for our farmers.”
Rooting, trampling and consumption of crops are the most common type of damage seen by farmers. Crops most often destroyed include rice, sorghum, wheat, corn, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. Hogs also can potentially contribute to bacterial contamination and sedimentation issues in waterways and they can carry numerous diseases, such as brucellosis and pseudo rabies.
“Feral Hogs are known for causing extensive damage,” said Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams. “By matching a hunter who is looking for additional hunting opportunities, with a landowner who needs help dispatching feral hogs, we hope to provide some relief to those who are suffering from this problem.”
The Hunters Helping Farmers program provides a mechanism to help farmers and hunters engage with a similar goal in mind. The goal of the new program is to help facilitate a relationship between farmers looking for ways to control hog issues on their land and hunters looking to hunt them. Interested farmers can register on the Georgia Department of Agriculture website at www.agr.georgia.gov. Information from interested farmers and hunters will be matched based on geographical area and given to the farmer to choose if and when to contact a hunter. The farmer will be responsible for making all arrangements with the hunter.
For more information, call 1-844-464-5455
I’ll be curious to see how this works out, as I’d love to see the model put in place across other states… especially here in Texas (where it’s turned out to be amazingly hard to find a free place to hunt hogs).
July 8, 2014
Because a single, coherent thought is too much to ask right now…
First of all, California hunters should really be paying attention… and attending.
CDFW To Hold Public Workshop on Lead Bullet Ban Implementation
July 7, 2014
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Gail Turner, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 358-1075
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will hold a public workshop Tuesday, July 29 to discuss the implementation of the lead bullet ban. The workshop will be held at the Rancho Cordova Library at 9845 Folsom Blvd. in Sacramento from 7-8:30 p.m.
A CDFW representative will detail a proposed implementation plan, the PowerPoint is available on the CDFW website. Following the short presentation, interested parties can make comments and provide input that will help shape CDFW’s final recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission, which CDFW anticipates presenting at the Commission’s meeting in Sacramento in September.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 711 requiring that the Commission adopt a regulation to ban lead ammunition in the state no later than July 1, 2015, with full implementation of the ban to occur no later than July 1, 2019. Governor Brown has directed CDFW and the Commission to work with all interested parties in order to produce a regulation that is least disruptive to the hunting community.
In order to determine what is least disruptive to hunters, CDFW has been reaching out to interested parties this year in a number of ways, including question and answer sessions at sportsmen’s shows, meetings with hunting organizations and now a series of public workshops throughout the state. A public workshop was held in Ventura in April and Eureka in June. Another is planned in Redding on July 19. After Sacramento, planning is underway for workshops in August in San Diego, Fresno and Riverside/San Bernardino. In addition, individuals and organizations may email comments to email@example.com (please use “Nonlead implementation” in the subject line) or mail hard copy correspondence to:
CDFW, Wildlife Branch
Attn: Nonlead implementation
1812 9th Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Louisiana hog hunters and farmers might be interested to learn that the Pelican State may soon legalize the use of helicopters to shoot feral hogs. Taking a cue from Texas, LA wildlife managers and agriculture agents are looking at expanding the use of helicopters on private lands. According to this article from the Times-Picayune, all Louisiana hog hunters aren’t happy about the possibility because they are afraid the sharpshooters will kill off all of the hogs and leave none for sportsmen.
(State wildlife veterinarian Jim) LaCour said he wishes it were that easy, but he told commissioners the state would have to kill 75 percent of its hogs every year just maintain a static population. The creatures are remarkably fecund, producing two litters a year with an average of six piglets per litter.
By the way, wildlife officials in Arizona are warning hunters to shop early if they hope to find lead-free ammunition for use this season. As many hunters learned last year, the “ready availability” so often touted by lead-ban proponents is not really the case at all. Finding lead-free ammo, even for standard calibers, was a challenge… especially for those shopping at smaller, local stores. But even the major outlets, including Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops ran short on the shelves, and even the online inventory went dry for periods of time.
On the national picture, the Senate is moving ahead with S2363, the Sportsmen’s Act. According to a release from the NSSF, the vote to move ahead was substantial, with an 82-12 majority in favor. Of course, next comes the crush of irrelevant amendments and such as the political wrangling gets serious, but hopefully we’ll see the bulk of this thing come through without too much damage.
At any rate, I’m not planning to become an outdoor news aggregator site anytime soon, but I did find all of these topics worth sharing… partly in the interest of keeping you folks informed, and partly just because it’s all I’ve got for content right now. But stay tuned… who knows what secrets lie in the hearts of hogs?
June 23, 2014
Monitoring the news feeds as always, I saw a couple of interesting articles regarding the efforts to manage the spread of feral hogs around the country. First, let’s talk toxins.
At this moment, there is no approved toxin for controlling feral hogs. While there are some products on the market that have been used (illegally in many cases), there’s nothing that is specific enough to impact a hog without posing a threat to other animals… either through direct contact or through the food chain. Poisons are, too often, indiscriminate killers. I’ve heard of people who have used various poisons, and almost always get a description of a “trail of carcasses,” from raccoons and opossums, to porcupines, coyotes, and birds. There’s a reason it’s generally illegal to use this stuff… and even where legal, most folks tend to steer clear.
There’s also concern, quite valid, about using poisons on a species that some of us eat. A pig (or an accidentally poisoned deer) can carry a pretty lethal load in its bloodstream. The unwitting hunter who shoots one of these animals for the table is in for a nasty… or potentially lethal… surprise. With any luck, the results will be minor illness. But more serious consequences are definitely possible, especially if the meat is consumed by more susceptible members of the family, such as youngsters or older folks.
But what if there were a toxin that could target feral hogs without being harmful to other species? What if, in fact, the most effective toxin for killing pigs is something we actually add to bacon for our own consumption?
I’ve mentioned this before, in passing, but researchers from the USDA and a couple of universities have discovered that sodium nitrite can be lethal to hogs. The research is currently ongoing, as they have yet to reach the USDA’s benchmark of a 90% kill rate, but the results so far are promising. This could be welcome news to agricultural interests and wildlife managers seeking to protect sensitive habitat, as well as to suburban homeowners in places where other control methods such as shooting or trapping are not as viable. This article from ABC News online has a little more information, including some of the challenges and responses the researchers have to overcome in this effort.
From the ground to the air…
Aerial shooting has also proven to be a useful tool for hog control, particularly in flat, open land such as parts of Texas. Attacking the animals from helicopters allows marksmen to kill large numbers of hogs in a single outing, thinning the local population and often driving the remaining animals off of the property. The thing is, there aren’t enough airborne marksmen to do the job on a large-scale basis. A couple of years back, Texas made it legal for individuals to pay for a helicopter “hunt”, but these outings are pretty expensive, putting them out of the reach of budget-conscious hunters. That leaves a lot of ground to cover by a small handful of specialized teams.
Enter “Operation Dustoff”.
According to their website, the mission of Operation Dustoff is as follows:
This program was developed and designed to strengthen and foster the most successful well-adjusted group of wounded service members. Our goal is to raise awareness and utilize the public’s aid to address the needs of injured/wounded service members. We are taking what the service members were trained to do for our country and creating functionality that will help them become a valuable resource to our community by utilizing their trade as an asset for hog eradication. These service members will also develop a sense of camaraderie with other injured/wounded service members by finding a common bond through friendly competition and enjoyment. Operation Dustoff provides unique and direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured/wounded service members.
The project is currently funded by corporate sponsorship and donations, and looks to build a core team of skilled, aerial marksmen to help combat the spread of feral hogs and to mitigate the damage they do, primarily to agricultural interests. The hope is that by using trained and professional operators, more farmers will be willing to hire the teams for fly-over shooting. At the same time, the program intends to provide a supportive opportunity and community for wounded veterans.
It sounds like a net positive to me.
If you’re interested in learning more about Operation Dustoff, either as sponsor or a participant, check out their website at: http://opdustoff.com/?page_id=21.