Feral swine rear ugly head in Ohio again

A pig gone wild is like an errant fired bullet: You can’t call it back.

And that is why I am betting that we’ll never get rid of wild pigs in Ohio. Nobody else has, either, including in elsewhere in the United States and across Europe and Asia – all the way to the Russian Far East, where these feral porcine monsters have ravaged landscapes for centuries.

You can think of wild pigs as an invasive species, cloven-hooved 200-pounders that dwarf such other nasty invaders as the pesky fingernail-sized zebra mussels, which themselves have wreaked havoc in Lake Erie and waters far beyond for nearly 30 years. And increasingly wild pigs are rooting up our valuable Ohio terrestrial wildlife habitats as surely as mussels have changed the ecological face of our great lake.
Known more formally as feral swine – or feral pigs and feral hogs – these bristly, sharp-tusked monstrosities now are deeply rooted especially in the southeastern corner of Ohio, said Marne Titchenell, wildlife specialist in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.

Another local outbreak of feral pigs of which I am aware is occurring in Seneca County in northwest Ohio. There, south of Tiffin, some domestic pigs which are thought to have escaped a small farm operation some years ago have gone wild, and now are proliferating and wrecking local habitats. Now no one wants to take “credit” for them, lest they be liable for damage the pigs have caused. It is a too-familiar tune.

“They’re highly adaptable and very destructive,” said Titchenell, a co-author of the recently published Ohio State University Extension fact sheet: “Feral Swine in Ohio: Managing Damage and Conflicts.” OSU Extension is the college’s statewide outreach arm.

Feral swine eat and trample crops, root up lawns and forest plants, and, by their wallowing, can make soils erode and turn streams turn muddy. They also can outcompete native wildlife for food, not to mention spread some 30 diseases and 37 parasites to livestock, pets, and humans. Two of those diseases, swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, are especially troubling.

Titchenell said feral swine invaded wild Ohio by escaping from farms and going native, or escaping from hunting preserves, or by being released illegally for hunting.

In any case, by surviving and spreading they have joined the state’s growing rogue’s gallery of invasive species. That includes the aforementioned zebra mussels, multi-colored Asian lady beetles, and grass, bighead and silver carp (the latter two just in the Ohio River watershed so far).Among many other invaders are kudzu, hydrilla, emerald ash borers, Asian longhorned beetles and hemlock woolly adelgids.

Titchenell said that feral pigs and other invasives spread quickly and can hurt native species, the environment and the economy. Feral swine already are widespread in the southeastern U.S. and parts of the West, according to the University of Georgia, and they cost the U.S. $1.5 billion a year in damage and control costs. Overall, invasives cost the U.S. more than $120 billion a year, a 2007 Cornell University study found.

Ohio’s first feral swine were seen in Vinton County in the 1980s. Reports grew in number through the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, in recent years, “Sightings have increased substantially,” the OSU fact sheet says. “Feral swine damage to standing corn," the OSU fact sheet notes, “can resemble the aftermath of an errant steamroller.”

Two agencies – Wildlife Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Ohio DNR's Division of Wildlife – are working to reduce Ohio’s feral swine numbers through trapping or shooting to cut the pigs’ damage and protecting biodiversity.

Ohio allows hunting and trapping of feral swine year-round, but you need a hunting license. Special restrictions apply during the deer seasons, such as wearing hunter orange and hours. Details are available by Googling on-line “wild ohio feral swine.”

Feral swine on their land can be reporting by calling Wildlife Services at 866-487-3297 for assistance. In any case, promptly report feral swine seen, Titchenell said. Another contact is the Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE or on-line at wildinfo@dnr.state.oh.us.

You also can download and use the free Great Lakes Early Detection Network app available at go.osu.edu/GLEDN. OSU Extension’s feral swine fact sheet is free online at go.osu.edu/j6q. Extension also offers help on-line at extension.org/feral_hogs. 

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