Narrow focus for New York's feral hog fight
Cortland, N.Y. — New York has launched something short of an all-out assault on feral hogs, focusing on Cortland, Onondaga and Tioga counties with USDA personnel working to eradicate the destructive swine.
With feral hogs – most of which are the product of escapes from captive preserves – now roaming up to three dozen counties in the state, it remains to be seen how effective the grant-funded eradication effort will be.
“It (eradication) is possible,” said Justin Gansowski, a USDA wildlife disease biologist working on New York’s feral hog issues. “In Kansas, five of 12 breeding populations have been eradicated. We’re in great shape to do that; there are only six counties in New York with breeding populations.”
Right now, however, USDA personnel are focusing their eradication efforts on only half of those breeding colonies. The concerns moving forward are many:
- that feral swine numbers will continue to grow as pockets of new breeding populations spring up and those left unchecked continue to proliferate.
- that New York, unlike Kansas, does not yet have legislation on the books that prohibits the transport of feral swine. A pair of bills in the state Legislature would do just that, as well as prohibit their possession by captive preserves. Neither bill has advanced, however.
- that funding will fall well short of what’s needed to eradicate feral swine in New York. Right now, the USDA crew working in Cortland and Onondaga counties is operating on federal grant monies – enough for two full-time personnel to cover hog hot spots Cortland, Onondaga and Tioga counties. The $105,000 grant came through the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“Kansas has transport regulations (a prohibition) and a funding source for eradication,” Gansowski told a crowd at a meeting earlier this month sponsored by the American Wildlife Conservation Foundation.
New York received its first reports of feral swine on the landscape about a decade ago. With several common names – feral pigs, feral hogs, wild boar, wild hogs, Russian boar or razorbacks – they’re firmly established in some areas of the state, notably pockets of Onondaga, Cortland, Tioga, Clinton, Sullivan and Delaware counties.
“Many people are aware of the feral swine problem in southern states like Texas and Florida, but these animals are also becoming more prevalent in New York and causing damage that affects numerous state residents,” said AWCF president Peg Sauer.
Feral swine outcompete wildlife species like deer, turkeys and waterfowl for food, rooting up the ground and feasting on acorns, beech nuts, the eggs of ground-nesting birds like turkeys and grouse, even killing whitetail fawns when the opportunity presents itself.
Some New York farmers have already seen major crop damage from feral hogs.
“It takes just a few pigs to do a lot of (agricultural) damage,” Gansowski said. “They’ll eat anything with a calorie in it. They’re eating machines.”
The hogs also carry numerous diseases and parasites, some of which can be transmitted to people, livestock, pets and wildlife. Among those diseases is pseudorabies, which has already been found in a feral hog in Cortland County.
“Pseudorabies will kill your dog, your cat or domestic livestock,” Gansowski said.
In Michigan, another state grappling with increasing wild hog numbers, a hunter died from contracting swine brucellosis from a feral hog he had shot.
Several hog-vehicle collisions have been reported in New York state. A farmer’s Labrador retriever was killed by a wild hog and two others dogs have been injured. Several people have been chased by aggressive hogs.
New York’s DEC has encouraged hunters to shoot any feral swine they may encounter, but asks them to avoid actually hunting the animals. That’s out of a concern that pressuring feral hogs could scatter them into other areas, where they could set up sub-colonies and produce additional pigs. They’re prolific, capable of producing two or even three litters a year, with an average litter of 4-6 piglets but sometimes a dozen or more.
“Don’t hunt them; don’t chase them,” Gansowski advised. “It splits up the groups. This is not managed through hunting.”
USDA’s trapping and eradication efforts are elaborate out of necessity to capture the wary hogs. Well-built coral traps are used, on food sources or with bait. The traps include a one-way door designed specifically for hogs. Trail cameras are used to identify the best times to trap the largest number of hogs, which are then destroyed.
Some night-vision shooting of feral hogs is also taking place.
“You need to remove 70 percent of the population every year to put it into a decline,” he said.
Gansowski said other potential options for eradicating hogs could at some point include GPS technology in which a single hog is used to track it to larger numbers of swine; aerial shooting, which has been successful in Texas; and even a poison that has been used in New Zealand and Australia.
Right now, however, it’s all about a unified effort.
“Everybody needs to be involved,” he said. “You need to shut out the source.”
A huge concern remains that some sportsmen see wild hogs as a new huntable species and may release or transport pigs into other areas of the state. That has already happened in Allegany County, but the three hogs released there were relatively tame and quickly removed.
Anyone sighting a feral hog is asked to call the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at 1-866-487-3297.