North Dakota Hopes to Eradicate Feral Pigs

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The recent findings of feral pigs in western and north central North Dakota have prompted state and federal agencies to take eradication measures to make sure these unwanted animals don't establish a permanent population in the state.

Greg Link, North Dakota Game and Fish Department assistant chief of wildlife, said a task force made up of the Game and Fish Department, North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Board of Animal Health, Wildlife Services and Veterinary Services, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of North Dakota is taking aggressive action to eliminate their presence from the state due to threat to domestic livestock, agricultural crops, public safety, natural habitat, and wildlife because of their potential to transmit diseases and destructive nature.

In summer 2007, state and federal agencies became aware of two separate bands of feral pigs in North Dakota: one in the western badlands southwest of Grassy Butte, and another in the Turtle Mountains in and around the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.

North Dakota state veterinarian Dr. Susan Keller said the Board of Animal Health had issued an eradication order on both groups of pigs. "Feral swine threaten domestic swine and other livestock production because they are often associated with diseases such as brucellosis, pseudorabies and classical swine fever," Dr. Keller said.

Aside from their potential to transmit diseases, Link said rooting and wallowing behaviors lead to soil erosion and degradation of water quality, they compete with native wildlife for food, destroy wildlife habitat, reduce species diversity, and prey on ground-nesting birds and small and young mammals.

Feral pigs can be stray domestic pigs, introduced Eurasian wild boars, or varied hybrids of each. "They are very hardy and resilient, and very prolific," Link added. "They often split into separate groups once their numbers reach a certain threshold. That is why it is imperative immediate action is taken."

Other states with a similar problem, Link said, have warned agencies in North Dakota to eliminate feral pigs immediately or risk having a long-term problem with an uncontrollable population.

The multi-agency task force quickly worked to locate and eradicate pigs found on the national grasslands in the badlands this summer.

"This effort, believed to be successful, was completed by summer’s end," said Sheila McNee, range program manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Dakota Prairie Grasslands. "Follow-up monitoring will determine if the effort in that area is fully completed."

Assessment and monitoring activities were initiated on the Turtle Mountain pigs this fall. However, because of the terrain, dense vegetation, heavy foliage, food availability, mixed private/public/tribal land ownership, and conflict with fall hunting seasons, the eradication effort in the Turtle Mountains was pushed back until additional contact and coordination with landowners and tribal officials were completed. It was also believed the pigs would likely be easier to locate and more susceptible to trapping efforts during winter months when natural food availability is reduced.

Wildlife Services state director Phil Mastrangelo, whose agency is spearheading removal efforts in the state, said eradication efforts in the Turtle Mountains started in January. "In addition to contacting private landowners, permission is being sought from the tribal authorities to work inside the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation," he added. "Pig removal activities include ground and air reconnaissance, trapping, as well as shooting by agency sharpshooters."

"Pigs are intelligent creatures," Mastrangelo added. "Sensing increased threat, they can quickly shift behavior to thwart removal efforts, often becoming more nocturnal and secretive as activity increases."

Because of disease concerns, blood and tissue samples will be taken from pigs to test for diseases and determine genetic background. The task force has established a database to record pig sightings. The public is asked to report any sighting of wild pigs in this area, or other parts of the state, to the Game and Fish Department at 328-6351.