Feral hogs cause $1.5 billion in crop and property damage annually
Pigs don’t fly, but they trailer well—which means that feral hogs can easily move from state to state.
John "Jack" Mayer, a renowned wild hog expert, chuckles when he shares the revamped phrase, but he’s not joking about the problems feral hogs pose to farm ground, livestock and people. Total damages, ranging from ruined corn to car wrecks, add up to more than $1.5 billion a year, according to research by David Pimentel, professor emeritus, Cornell University.
"A pig bomb is going off in the U.S., and people need to take it seriously," says Mayer, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C.
He says wild hogs have now been reported in 46 states and the total population is between 3 million and 8 million. "Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Wyoming are the only states I know of that haven’t reported them," Mayer reports.
Feral hogs were introduced to what is now Florida by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539. While the largest populations still reside in the South, feral hogs are moving north. This expansion has been helped by escapes from private game ranches as well as sportsmen who truck the hogs from one state to another and then release them for hunting purposes.
Rush for control. Residents in states where the pigs are a fairly new problem have varying and often contentious views on the issue. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Michigan, home to more than 2,000 feral hogs. The debate there transcends science and logic, says Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
Some members of the state government, along with many sportsmen, want to regulate the Michigan swine industry, Byrum adds. This would enable wild game ranches that offer feral hog hunts to continue operating.
"Most of us are pretty darn skeptical that anything short of total confinement would work," Byrum says. "We don’t believe regulation is the answer."
Byrum and most members of the Michigan agricultural community want to eliminate wild hog populations, as the animals can carry diseases such as pseudorabies and bovine tuberculosis, which can wreak havoc on livestock.
Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist at Texas A&M, says eradication is probably possible in states with small populations of feral pigs, but that’s not the situation any longer in Texas. "We estimate there are about 2.6 million hogs here, in nearly every county," he says.
There are several legal control measures for Texas landowners, Higginbotham says. They can shoot, trap, snare and catch feral hogs with dogs. They can also shoot them from helicopters.
Higginbotham estimates that feral hogs cause at least $52 million worth of damage to the Texas agricultural industry each year.
"They put us out of business," says Jean Bass, who, with her husband, Lamar, raised 300 acres of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons in Canton, Texas, until three years ago. The hogs could ruin 5 to 10 acres of crops in a single night, she adds.
State by state. No national strategy is in place to control feral hogs, leaving individual states to set their own course. In May 2011, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program Act. The legislation is aimed at controlling the increasing population of wild pigs located in the fragile Louisiana coastal wetlands.
"In Kansas and Nebraska, they made it against the law to hunt hogs, which eliminated the incentive to bring them in," Higginbotham says. "That was a brilliant move."
Jim Hill, District 4 wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, estimates feral hogs in his state number in the hundreds. He says people are allowed to hunt pigs at any time, but hunters should refer to Ohio hunting and trapping regulations.
Beyond hunting, there are few ways to curb feral hog populations. The National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo., is working on an oral contraceptive, but the product has not been finalized, Mayer says.