History lesson on wild hogs

On the farm column

Sometime ago I wrote about wild hogs or feral pigs in Ashtabula County. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources lists that county as having one or more colonies of these destructive animals.

However, I have not heard of anyone seeing them or the damage they can cause either there or in Trumbull County.

According to Steve Backs, a wildlife biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, wild pigs have a historical presence in the south. They began popping up in the Midwest in the 1990s.

Backs says Indiana’s current wildlife population is limited to several counties, attributed to a single probable source. He says that in the mid-1990s a resident of Louisiana used wild pigs as a cover to poach Indiana deer. “This guy would haul in the wild pigs and release them. He’d hunt deer in the same location and when approached, he’d claim he was hunting wild pigs. The rumor was he was killing Midwest deer and entering them in big buck contests in the south. We couldn’t catch him releasing the wild pigs, but we knew what was going on.”

The suspect probably released over 60 wild pigs, according to Backs. This would be enough to start a population explosion. Others may have also been releasing wild pigs but there was no coordinated effort to release larger numbers. The initial surge of them was probably caused by the first release.

Backs is chairman of the Feral Swine Committee for the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. This organization includes representation from nine U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that operates as an information exchange. He also serves on the National Wild Pig Task Force that includes representation from state organizations, universities and government agencies.

He describes wild pigs as “God’s perfect survival animals” and adds that they ultimately are “a devil’s bargain.” He says they can lead to habitat loss for other animals, including deer, and calls them cockroaches on hooves.

Bronson Strickland, a wildlife management specialist with the Mississippi State Extension Service says that through genetic testing, they have watched the unnatural spread of wild pigs. Populations don’t just spring up overnight but are caused by human transporting of the animals.

He has watched the wild pig population explode in Mississippi from five percent of the state in 1959 to at least 50 percent of the land in 2017. He estimates a total population of over 200,000 animals.

Wild pigs, also called feral hogs, are very destructive animals. They will uproot woodland areas, destroying the habitat for other animals and will destroy many acres of newly planted crops. Estimates are that 6.3 million wild pigs cause $2.5 billion damage each year.

Illegal transport of these animals has been a real problem. Other than organized control programs, wild pigs don’t have any predators and have free reign to expand and grow in numbers. While they don’t seem to be a problem in Trumbull County yet, farmers and hunters need to be on the alert for signs they are in the area and inform wildlife officials. Farmers and sportsmen don’t need another problem.

Most hunters want to obey the laws and do things right. It is usually the bad apple that spoils the whole bushel.

Parker is an independent writer and writes for the Trumbull County Farm Bureau.