New York’s feral hog fight an ongoing effort
My first encounter with wild pigs occurred in 2009 when I heard them grunting and rooting in the Tioga County woods where I was spring turkey hunting. I didn’t see them, but from the damage I subsequently discovered, I knew they didn’t belong. The breeding population I accidently came across was thought to be the result of escaped swine from a shooting preserve a few miles down the road in Pennsylvania.
According to information provided by Dan Hojnacki of the USDA’s Division of Animal Wildlife Services, feral swine are highly mobile disease reservoirs and can carry at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases, in addition to 37 parasites that affect people, pets, livestock or wildlife. Other impacts feral swine have had and potentially may have on the state of New York include ecological damage, agricultural damage, property damage, and threats to human health and safety. The loss of wetlands from feral swine rooting, trampling, and wallowing is of conservation concern statewide, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one feral hog will destroy ten acres of wetland in its lifetime. As a result, the DEC and Wildlife Services (WS) program in New York looks at this as a serious problem and continues its management of these populations to eliminate them from areas they currently inhabit.
Feral swine are a growing problem, not only in New York but all across the country. They are highly adaptable and can exploit a diversity of habitat types, including states with harsh winters. What’s more disturbing is that feral swine have a high reproductive capacity and populations can quickly expand to colonize new areas.
When a landowner notifies the DEC of the possibility of swine on their property, the DEC forwards these reports or leads to USDA Wildlife Services (WS) to investigate. WS has taken the lead in eliminating feral swine in New York, while the DEC assists with law enforcement and collecting information from the public among other things. Feral swine elimination efforts in New York started in 2008 by the DEC and WS when the first breeding population was discovered in Cortland County.
In Cortland and Onondaga counties, Wildlife Services documented damage to apple orchards and pastures as well as to fields of corn, oats, soybeans, pumpkins, wheat and hay. In Tioga County, damage to pastures and fields of corn, oats, and hay was also documented.
Small pig populations are difficult to detect, so knowing with any certainty when elimination has been achieved is extremely difficult. However, the DEC and the USDA have instituted an intensive monitoring program and have taken steps to eliminate known populations that by trapping and shooting individual boars. It appears this strategy has effectively eliminated this invasive animal from New York because Wildlife Services has not detected feral swine in New York since October 2014.
A few years ago New York passed a law making it illegal to possess Eurasian boars and their hybrids, and as a result New York no longer has these animals in any enclosed shooting facilities in the state. But unfortunately, Pennsylvania still allows them. New York also prohibits the hunting of free-ranging Eurasian pigs; this law was passed to discourage anyone who might release boars illegally to deliberately establish a population near them which they could hunt. This illegal release is the primary way the feral swine population is expanding across the US.
Currently, a variety of monitoring techniques, including aerial surveillance and the use of detection dogs combined with trail cameras, are used by the USDA to detect feral swine. However, due to adverse weather conditions, mechanical issues and pilot availability, Wildlife Services was unable to conduct the scheduled aerial surveys in 2016. On the upside, Wildlife Services did not detect any feral swine on the landscape in 2015, but absolute certainty of feral swine absence can only be attained by the passage of time without any being reported or detected.