Shoot, but don’t ‘hunt’ wild pigs, DEC advises

Albany — Shoot them, but don’t hunt them.

That’s the position of DEC as the state grapples with pockets of the state where feral hogs are taking hold.

It may sound confusing, but as feral hog numbers continue to grow in areas of central New York, other parts of the Southern Tier and even Clinton County in northern New York, DEC officials are concerned that hunting pressure may scatter the hogs into other areas where they may become established.

“(Hunting them) tends to scatter the populations and they tend to set up, for lack of a better term, new community groups,” said Steve Hurst, DEC’s chief of the Bureau of Wildlife Services. “It establishes a new breeding population of these pigs and actually accelerates their expansion.”

Feral hogs are common in several southern and southwestern states, notably Texas. And while many states offer hog hunts and revenue is generated by their presence, DEC officials say those states are simply making the best of a bad situation.

In New York, feral hogs have cropped up, not surprisingly, near hunting preserves. Escapees from those facilities are responsible for their presence in most, if not all areas of the state where they’re found.

“You really can’t solve the problem of pigs in the woods until you stop them from leaking out into the woods and getting out of the fences,” said Patricia Riexinger, director of DEC’s Bureau of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. “Our efforts now are focused on stopping the source of the pigs.”

Hurst says either a legislative or regulatory approach is needed “to stop the flow of these animals.”

DEC’s chief wildlife biologist, Gordon Batcheller, said the situation “might require legislation so we can shut down the source of these animals before they get on the landscape.”

And Hurst says “all the eradication efforts in the world won’t make a damn bit of difference unless we stop the influx of these animals.”

Conservation Fund Advisory Board member Dale Dunkelberger, who annually treks to Texas to hunt hogs, predicts it’s already too late to stop their expansion in New York state.

“In 13 months one sow has three litters,” he said. “You don’t know how many are out there now.”

Riexinger says the arrival of feral hogs could be viewed by some sportsmen as a new species to hunt, despite the damage they’re capable of causing and how they compete with other wildlife species, including the state’s most popular big-game animal, the white-tailed deer.

“We also don’t want to turn (hogs) into a favorite game animal so everybody starts moving them around the state,” she said.

New York in 2008-09 trapped and removed 44 feral swine in Cortland and Onondaga counties. But those efforts have now been shelved amid the state’s fiscal crisis.

“DEC has no money; USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has no money,” said CFAB member Lance Robson.

The wild pigs are extremely adaptable, eating virtually anything to survive – including wild turkey and grouse eggs. Their digging activities destroy lawns and crops and they compete with wildlife like deer for food.

Hurst, too, says the health threat hogs carry shouldn’t be overlooked. “It’s very real,” he said. “Pseudo-rabies in pigs is a big deal. Pigs can vector a lot of nasty stuff and can transfer it quickly to a lot of other livestock. The farming community should take this very seriously.”

Feral hogs are extremely shy and secretive and are difficult to hunt without baiting them into range. DEC remains concerned that actively pursuing them will simply spread the problem into other areas and firmly establish hogs in New York.

“If you see one, shoot it,” said DEC assistant director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug Stang. “But we don’t want people out there actually hunting them.”

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