Federal and state officials say a large population of wild hogs in Arkansas is causing problems for farmers across the state.
State officials estimate there are roughly 200,000 fast-breeding feral hogs spread across the state's 75 counties.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports the hogs' eating, digging and rolling habits often destroy plants, pasture and farm irrigation equipment. A report by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture attributes "up to $30 million in damages" of Arkansas agriculture, forestry and livestock to feral hog activity.
USDA district supervisor Mike Hoy says the wild pigs have lived in the area since Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto introduced them to southern Arkansas in 1541.
Arkansas farmers let their pigs roam freely into the well into the 20th century and hunted them when they were ready to harvest the animals, said Becky McPeake, professor and extension wildlife specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. She said the sharp increase in the wild pig population didn't occur until about 30 years ago.
Hoy said this was due to hunters releasing the animals for sport, although the Legislature placed limitations on releasing hogs for hunting in 2013.
It is legal for unlicensed hunters to take wild hogs year-round on private property with the landowner's permission, according to the Game and Fish Commission. Licensed hunters can take feral pigs in many of the state's Wildlife Management Areas during particular hunting seasons.
But experts agree that hunting, as well as using small traps and snares, are not effective ways to control the feral pig population. Killing or hurting one or two members of a family group makes the survivors more wary.
"They are as smart as you or I. They're not just a smart animal," says Skip Armes, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture extension agent in Searcy County. "If they recognize a trap ... you'll never see them again. You've educated them, and they'll educate their piglets."
Hoy said 140,000 of the state's estimated 200,000 wild pigs would have to be removed each year in order to prevent the population from growing.