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Is feral hog battle winnable in New York?

Posted on March 7, 2013

Castleton, N.Y. — Federal officials say they made progress in eradicating feral swine from Onondaga County, one of six counties in New York state where breeding populations of the pigs have been identified.

But they say much more work needs to be done, and legislation banning the possession, transport and sale of feral swine would be a huge step in the right direction.

“Escape of swine from shooting preserves, breeding facilities and intentional releases of swine by hunters interested in pursuing them in New York are factors that need to be addressed if the elimination efforts in the state are to be successful,” read a report from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s wildlife services division. “With the proper legislation in place to prohibit the sale, possession or transportation of feral swine, elimination is a feasible goal for New York state.”

The report highlighted some successes in eradicating feral swine from the landscape – 35 pigs were trapped and destroyed and another five shot from treestands in Onondaga County. But it also warned of the pigs’ tendency to proliferate, noting the breeding populations in Onondaga, Cortland, Sullivan, Clinton, Delaware and Tioga counties are likely producing litters of four to six piglets, perhaps several times a year.

“Future population reduction in these areas is critical to prevent the further expansion of feral swine in the state,” the report read. “In the absence of aggressive professional management these populations will likely continue their expansion and become firmly entrenched in New York state. Once established, feral swine populations are difficult to eliminate.”

Justin Gansowski, a wildlife disease biologist leading the New York effort since 2008, said current feral swine populations are low enough that complete eradication – Kansas and Oregon have been successful in preventing feral swine from becoming established – is possible.

The report noted that states that have made it illegal to hunt feral swine (Kansas) or prohibited the possession of Eurasian wild boar (Wisconsin) “have had some of the greatest population reductions. Kansas wildlife biologists credit much of their success to preventing hunting of feral swine populations.”

Federal and DEC have asked hunters to shoot feral hogs if they encounter them in the field, but to avoid hunting them specifically. That, they said, disperses the swine into new breeding colonies and actually promotes the expansion of their numbers.

The report said an annual harvest of 66 percent is required to stabilize a feral hog population with no growth; sport hunting typically can account for about a 24 percent kill and scatters the pigs into new areas.

Hunting also makes them more difficult to trap, the report noted.

“It can take weeks of pre-baiting before feral swine are suitably conditioned to the trap site,” said the report.

Wildlife Services staff have acquired access to 35 properties, comprising more than 17,000 acres in Cortland, Onondaga and Tioga counties to conduct their control efforts.

Officials said they believe the feral swine originated from hunting preserves. Areas where the hogs have been found in the wild have hunting preserves nearby.

In addition to the hogs removed from the Onondaga County landscape, DEC officials last year killed several feral pigs, including piglets, in northern New York’s Clinton County.

Between 2008 and 2012, 143 feral swine have been removed from a four-county area of central New York. “Wildlife services estimated those 143 feral swine and their offspring could have produced over 10,000 swine in six years,” the report indicated.

Feral swine compete with wildlife species, including deer and turkeys, for mast crops such as acrons and beechnuts, and their wallowing and foraging behavior damages wetlands and cropland.  Federal officials documented rooting damage to apple orchards and pastures, as well as fields of corn, oats, soybeans, pumpkins, wheat, and hay in Cortland and Onondaga counties.

In addition, the hogs carry parasites and diseases that can be transmitted to livestock.

Gansowski said a federal grant is in place that will allow for continued control efforts this year.

Any sightings or shootings of feral swine should be reported to the DEC.