Pennsylvania-Australia collaboration begs question: Just how bad is state's wild hog problem?

Jeff MulhollemAccording to the latest estimates, Australia has more wild hogs than human beings, perhaps more than 23 million. No one is certain how many wild hogs roam Pennsylvania — mostly escapees from commercial hog-hunting preserves and their offspring.

But both commonwealths need to control and perhaps eliminate feral pigs, which are a highly destructive species, according to Ted Alter, professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics at Penn State.

The university is collaborating with Australia's University of New England and the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre to face the problems presented by wild hogs and other invasive vertebrate species.

"In Australia, invasive animals are a high-priority issue that most rural residents are well-versed in and concerned about," Alter said. "They deal with a range of more than 50 species of invasive animals, such as feral cats, feral swine, wild dogs and rabbits, pest fish such as carp, and some birds."

In Pennsylvania, he noted, feral swine are an emerging threat, posing health risks to people and livestock. "But my sense is that this is not well known or well understood by the public."

Recently 13 Australians — leaders in helping communities manage these and other natural resource issues — participated in a three-week, intensive short course at Penn State. Their focus was on providing support to rural communities and local government officials who are struggling with invasive animals such as wild hogs.

Theodore Alter, Penn State professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics, showed a radio collar that he suggests could be used to track feral hogs in Pennsylvania to get a better handle on their population. Photo courtesy Penn StateIn addition to Penn State experts, the group spoke with representatives from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the state Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the Pennsylvania Invasive
Species Council, Cornell University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

"We wanted to compare hog control in Australia and the United States, particularly Pennsylvania and New York, and we wanted to get a sense of the institutional and public policy differences between the two," Alter
said.

Alter suggested that using radio-collar technology over time would help us get a sense of what control strategies might be most effective.

"In Australia, they are using that technology to help them get a clearer sense of where these animals go and what impacts they have on landholders and native wildlife," he said.

"Here in Pennsylvania, if we collared and tracked wild hogs in strategic locations, this might help communities to better understand the nature of the issues and the potential impact of these animals."

If that were done, Alter said, wildlife scientists in the College of Agricultural Sciences could work with the Game Commission and other state agencies to implement the technology and track wild hogs.

"And we certainly would be involved in the issues associated with engaging citizens, landowners and local officials to develop control strategies and manage hog populations," he said.

All of this has me wondering … just how bad is the Keystone State's wild hog problem?

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