Published: April 08, 2007 12:14 am
Study: Hunting wild pigs causing more harm than good
By JOE GORDEN
Pennsylvania’s wild pig population is far larger than suspected, and hunting the animals may be causing more harm than good, a recent study indicates.
Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been studying the state’s feral hogs since last fall and has come up with some alarming information.
“Initially, we thought we were dealing with pockets of maybe 20 or 30 animals in the state,” said Harris Glass, state director of Wildlife Services. “But, there’s more than we thought. Just in Cambria and Bedford counties, there were probably 200 hogs removed this past hunting season. Anybody that’s hunting them would understand that there’s a lot more than that out there.”
In fact, the study estimates there may be 3,000 or more wild hogs in the state, and it has found proof that they are breeding in at least five counties – Bedford, Bradford, Butler, Cambria and Tioga.
Although the study did not conclusively link the problem to hunting preserves, it found much that implies they are involved.
“We found it alarming, the amount of hunting preserves that are actually bringing these hogs into the state,” Glass said. “Some of them actually advertise that there is no fence. There are shooting preserves in 15 counties, some of them have multiple shooting preserves, and each of the five counties where we have confirmed feral hogs do have shooting preserves in them.”
While hunting seems to have created the problem – in the form of escapes from shooting preserves – hunting also seems to be spreading the population of wild hogs, Glass said.
“One of the negative consequences of increased hunting pressure is that the hogs are expanding,” Glass said. “They’re dispersing them. We were dealing with isolated pockets of hogs in concentrated areas, for the most part. Now, we’re looking at hogs being expanded into areas where they’ve never been seen before. They break them up into smaller groups that will continue to breed and form new pockets.”
Glass said it is not hunting per se, but the tactics that some hunters employ that causes the problem.
“We’ve got one gentleman in the northeast who has shot over 70 in the past three years,” he said. “With just one person shooting at them, it does not really put the pressure on them. But, we’ve got hunting parties in Bedford County of 10 or more people putting a drive on them. With that kind of pressure, they’ve moving up over the ridge and into the next valley. They are intelligent animals. They will avoid people. They’re able to continue breeding, so as they spread and go into new areas, their population keeps growing and it gets harder to get a handle on things.”
There is also a suspicion that hard-core pig hunters are inclined to introduce them into areas that don’t have them now. That apparently has happened in Missouri and Kansas, and Kansas has recently banned hog hunting in an effort to stop such releases.
An Associated Press story reported that Missouri may have as many as 10,000 feral hogs and Kansas 2,000. The USDA recently shot 257 Kansas hogs from the air in a four-week period as part of a control project.
The degree of concern here is evident in the agenda for the April 17-18 Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting, which includes a provision that would make it illegal to release hogs into the wild. Pennsylvania’s Feral Pig Task Force is scheduled to meet April 25 in Harrisburg to update industry groups on the situation.
Glass said he doesn’t think it is too late to get Pennsylvania’s wild hog problem under control, but it may be soon.
“I think we’re at a crossroad right now,” he said. “We can educate people – sportsmen, landowners, industry groups – that it’s up to the citizens of Pennsylvania to understand if it is a good thing to have free-roaming feral hogs in the state. If this population gets out of hand and gets to the point that it is in some southern states, it would threaten our domestic hog industry, which is worth about $271 million and ranks 10th in the nation.
“This is also a concern for sportsmen,” he added. “Where hog concentrations get heavy, they can have an effect on deer because they eat fawns. They also compete with any native animal we have in Pennsylvania for food.”