When wildlife populations bloom or problems arise from certain wildlife species, an allowance for sport hunting might come immediately to mind as a potential solution. Letting the hunters help by decreasing the numbers makes sense, right?
That isn’t necessarily the best solution when it comes to managing feral hogs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), these animals have expanded their range in the last 30 years in the United States and reside in more than 40 states. They cause damages estimated at $1.5 billion each year.
“This species damages crops, can kill young livestock and wildlife, destroys property, damages existing plant communities, and has the potential to carry diseases that threaten much of our livestock industry,” said Charlie Lee, wildlife management specialist for K-State Research and Extension.
For these reasons, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is looking to reduce feral hog damage nationally, and it is asking for input from the public on its proposed environmental impact statement that is part of the APHIS Feral Swine Damage Management Program. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 2.
“Before (APHIS) can make a decision on the best approach to manage feral swine damage, the National Environmental Policy Act requires the evaluation of the potential impacts associated with various types of control methods,” Lee said.
Some states allow sport hunting for feral hogs. Kansas, however, banned the practice with a law passed in 2006, but the state’s landowners or designated agents for landowners can hunt feral hogs on their properties after obtaining a permit from the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health.
“That (law) was passed primarily to reduce the transport of feral hogs to various locations in the state and release them for feral hog hunting,” Lee said. “Feral hog hunting is in high demand. It’s been estimated that feral hog hunting comes in at No. 2 in hunting activities only behind the number of hunters and days spent hunting for whitetail deer.”
Lee said it makes sense that states such as Kansas, with large areas of open territory and low populations, ban sport hunting to reduce the number of feral hogs that move about in the state. Hunting could scatter the hogs and make the population issue worse.
When the hogs aren’t scattered, it could make it easier to capture more of them successfully, he added, but it is doubtful that sport hunting and trapping efforts will eradicate feral hogs.
Other states with more tree cover might have a higher density population of feral hogs. Lee said banning sport hunting in places where the hogs are already scattered throughout the state probably wouldn’t have much of an impact. These hogs couldn’t be hunted by aerial helicopters, for example, which is one of the many control techniques in place today.
“One of the advantages of banning sport hunting is that feral hogs are elusive,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons they’re so popular among sport hunters. They are a difficult, challenging query, and if you quit hunting them, they become somewhat more domesticated and an easier target to eliminate or reduce in numbers.”
Research indicates feral hog populations in the United States must be reduced by about 70 percent each year just to keep up with reproduction, Lee said. Feral hogs can have up to three litters per year with a dozen or so pigs per litter. In the absence of a control effort, a local population could grow rapidly.
“Keep in mind that the threats posed by feral hogs are real,” he said. “They don’t appear to be going away, and in fact, they’re rapidly increasing. 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 APHIS Feral Swine Damage Management Program involves several other government agencies working together to address this nationwide concern. To view the draft environmental impact statement, log on to the Regulations.gov (http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0031) website. Comments can be submitted online or by mail.