Va. experts work to stop spreading of feral hogs
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Farmers throughout Virginia know too well the challenges of whitetail deer damage in their fields. But Jim Parkhurst, Virginia Tech’s Extension wildlife specialist, said feral hogs will be much worse if their population continues to spread.
“They’re going to make deer look like candy,” he told a gathering of Southwest Virginia vegetable growers earlier this year.
Parkhurst works closely with agencies in Virginia and across the country in trying to out-maneuver the feral hogs that are both dangerous and costly. The agencies include the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, USDA’s Wildlife Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
USDA reports that feral swine have been spotted in at least 35 states and cost the nation an estimated $1.5 billion annually in damage and control costs.
In 2014, Congress joined the battle against these destructive animals by appropriating $20 million to APHIS for its National Feral Swine Damage Management Program, Parkhurst said.
Virginia is part of this program.
For a long time, feral hogs in Virginia were located only in Southeast Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, held captive by geography. They eventually worked their way along the coast and into other parts of Tidewater. The feral hogs in the southwestern parts of Virginia are thought to have migrated from surrounding states, especially those to the south where feral hog populations are more dense.
Parkhurst and state and federal agencies stress that just shooting feral hogs is not the answer to eradicating them. He said pigs are smart and shooting just educates them.
“They become nocturnal,” he said.
The most effect measure found in Virginia has been constructing a hog-proof enclosure, and baiting it until a group of hogs, known as a sounder, felt safe before finally enclosing them permanently.
Parkhurst said the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has made dealing with feral hogs a priority along with other conservation groups.
“Feral hogs have been ranked by many conservation organizations as the most significant threat to native wildlife and heir habitats in the United States,” he said. “The DGIF does not intend to manage feral hogs like traditionally managed deer, turkey or bear populations,” he added. “We do not intend to keep them around, but instead the ultimate goal of DGIF is to eradicate feral hogs from Virginia’s landscape.”
The agency’s goal is far reaching, aimed at protecting agricultural and natural resources, property, animal health, and human health and safety by managing damage caused in the U.S. and its territories.
Parkhurst and others working to eradicate these hogs are frustrated because it appears that unidentified individuals or groups keep reintroducing the animals where a lot of money and time has been expended to get rid of them. He said they suspect this is done to for hunting purposes.
Genetic studies from wild hogs found in two widely separated areas of Virginia seem to confirm this, Parkhurst said.
Hogs found in an area where efforts were successful in eradicating them only a few years before were found to have the same genetics as those over 200 miles away.
“Feral hogs are four-legged ecological disasters,” the DGIF website states. “They cause damage to wildlife habitat wherever they exist. The only place hogs should be found is within the confines or boundaries of their owner’s property as livestock or domestic animal, where they are cared for according to all livestock or domestic animal regulations.”
The agency said that if they occur anywhere else they are a direct threat to natural resources, environmental quality and agricultural interests. They can also spread disease to animals and swine. They have the potential to become aggressive as well threatening humans and animals.
All modern hogs are descended from the Old World Eurasian or Russian boar, Parkhurst said. They came to North America with European settlers as livestock.
Parkhurst credited Christopher Columbus with bringing them to the Caribbean Islands where they escaped and became problems.
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