Farm Talk

Ag News from Around the Country

April 30, 2014

PEDv raises stakes for feral hog control

Parsons, Kansas — When it comes to feral hogs, a big-time sport is a big-time problem for others.

Hunters travel major distances to Oklahoma, and even farther into Texas, for hunting wild hogs.

They hunt their prey with firearms, archery, hand weapons, dogs and a wide array of trapping, but they are adamant about the thrill of pursuit.

Some states have made a big business of the wild populations but in farm country, wild hogs are considered costly menaces that are difficult to control and hunting is focused on efforts to eliminate populations.

“Feral hogs are very destructive and costly to the state of Missouri,” emphasized Dan McMurtry, wildlife biologist serving the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services in Columbia. “Hog hunting is not considered a sport in Missouri. While it is legal to shoot wild hogs, we are more concerned about controlling and eliminating populations, rather than encouraging hunting.”

“Feral hogs pose a serious concern to land owners. Their rooting, wallowing and feeding behaviors contribute to soil erosion, reduce water quality and damage agriculture crops and hay fields as well as destroy sensitive natural areas,” McMurtry pointed out. “Wild hogs destroy young wildlife, ground nesting birds, and could potentially even be bodily dangerous to humans.”

Some consider a much more serious problem is the spread of parasites and disease.

“Feral hogs are known to carry swine influenza, swine brucellosis, pseudorabies, trichinosis and leptospirosis,” McMurtry explained.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control has reported that several hunters in the southeastern U.S. contracted brucellosis infections from field dressing feral hogs.

Disease spread by feral hogs has drawn increased attention with the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv).

First identified a year ago in this country, PEDv is almost always fatal in newborn pigs, according to veterinarians.

McMurtry, Kansas Animal Health Commissioner Bill Brown, and others across the country including David Marks, Michigan wildlife disease biologist, have expressed concerns about the possibility of feral hogs further spreading PEDv.

“There is a new blood test being developed to detect if feral hogs are spreading PEDv, but actual testing of wild pigs is still months away.  It could develop into a very serious situation, especially since with wild animal disease surveillance there are so many unknowns,” Marks qualified.

That means added worries about wild hogs in Missouri and Kansas.

“It’s difficult to know how many feral hogs there are in Missouri. Estimates vary from 10,000 to 15,000, with populations spread across the southern half of the state. This number has developed over the past 15 years,” explained McMurtry, who has requested reporting of feral hog sightings to the USDA Wildlife Services at 573-449-3033.

While there have been feral hogs since the days of open range, the inventory expanded when hog hunting began to gain popularity.

“People began raising European wild boar as a form of alternative agriculture, and for hunting on licensed shooting areas. Then, it wasn’t long before many of these hogs escaped, or were released on public land,” McMurtry said. “Release of feral hogs on public land or on private land that is not fenced to contain them is illegal, and should also be reported.”

Feral hogs can breed at any time of the year, starting at six months of age, producing one to two litters a year, typically with a half dozen or more piglets surviving, and can live up to eight years of age, while weighing 300 pounds. “As a result, feral hog populations can double in a short amount of time, without control measures,” McMurtry calculated.

“No permit is needed to kill feral hogs in Missouri, except during deer and turkey seasons, and in reality, hunters afield for other game should shoot feral hogs on sight,” McMurtry said.

Still, eradicating feral hogs is difficult. “Concentrated shooting and trapping efforts by state and federal employees, and also private landowners, have brought some success in Missouri,” McMurtry said.

“Our goal is complete eradication of feral hogs in Missouri. We have made advances, but despite continuing efforts, populations moving from other states and continued releases seem to make it impossible,” McMurtry evaluated.

Brown at the Kansas Department of Agriculture in Topeka said, “Kansas still has a feral hog population, but it was more of a problem in earlier years. Fortunately, we are an envy of other states in our eradication efforts initiated in 2006. It took both legislation and funding to make our eradication program the success it has been.

“Making it illegal to hunt feral hogs in Kansas set precedence for our efforts, and through a combination of practices, the state wild hog counts have been reduced from as many as 3,000, to an estimated population of about 400, existing at this time. We’ve made tremendous progress, with 10 local populations eradicated to date,” Brown contended.

“Aerial gunning is a highly effective control means where large numbers can be taken in a few hours or days, while trapping would require a year to match the success,” said Brown, adding that night vision shooting and snaring are other eradication efforts.

“Kansas is the model for states that have new and emerging wild hog populations,” Brown said. “Since inception of the eradication program started in Kansas, aerial shootings have taken 2,337 hogs, and ground work has taken 1,652 hogs. That’s a total of 3,989 hogs taken by Wildlife Services, including ‘border pigs,’ but not counting the 385 feral pigs taken at Fort Riley.”

 Cooperation is the key to eradication success. “We have worked with state and federal agencies in Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska on ‘border pigs.’ One hundred percent landowner and agency cooperation is the number one key to being successful. We must have a door to door salesman approach,” Brown insisted.

“Kansas is miles ahead from where we started,” Brown explained. “Continued ‘maintenance' along southern and eastern borders and surveillance are essential. Our challenge will be to put out little fires before they become big fires.

“We need to make our current laws stronger, and designate an agency to strictly enforce those laws. There can be zero tolerance for illegal translocation. It’s essential to be proactive now,” Brown demanded.

Feral hogs cannot be hunted on public land and not on private property unless the owner is working to remove or eradicate the pigs.

Wild pigs have been trapped and seen in southwest Kansas as well as northern Kansas near the Nebraska border.

Kansas counties where wild pigs can readily be found are Barber, Bourbon, Cowley, Elkhart, Morton and Douglas Counties. Bourbon County near the Missouri border has the highest populations.

In summary, McMurty pointed out that Congress has appropriated $20 million to manage damage caused by feral, or free-ranging, swine through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“This will be the first united wide-ranging effort to manager this non-native species,” McMurty said.

Feral hog populations are said to total 5 million head in 39 states, with annual damage and control estimated at $1.5 billion.

“Researchers suggest that each feral hog annually causes $200 worth of direct property damage, not including damage to the environment, native species and disease potentials,” McMurtry summarized.

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