Feral pig issue being addressed by USDA Wildlife Services

With the threat of a breed of “super pigs” migrating into the northern states from Canada, Oklahoma is working to mitigate the negative impact of the feral hogs already established on ranch and farm land.

The “super pig” is reportedly coming down from Canada and headed into the northern states. Ryan Brook, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of Canada’s leading authorities on the problem, calls feral swine “the most invasive animal on the planet” and “an ecological train wreck.”

The “super pigs” have been described as smart and very adaptable – and they eat anything, including wildlife.

“Nobody should be surprised when pigs start walking across that border if they haven’t already,” Brook said. “The question is: What will be done about it? The only path forward is, you have to be really aggressive and you have to use all the tools in the toolbox.”

Brook’s comments were reported in an Associated Press article from U.S. News, titled, “A population of hard-to-eradicate ‘super pigs’ in Canada is threatening to invade the U.S.”

Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Scott Alls works with ranchers and farmers in trying to rid the countryside of the feral pigs established in Oklahoma. The morning of Dec. 5, Alls was shooting pigs from a helicopter in Pottawatomie County, just south of Tecumseh.

“[Aerial hunting from a helicopter] is a good tool for the toolbox. Trapping is still our No. 1 tool but the aerial work comes in second,” Alls said.

There has been no legislation enacted to address the feral pig issue since the 2018 Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program.

“Grant funds we’ve had were through the U.S. Farm Bill, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission were assisting us in some of the work we were doing,” Alls said.

Alls works for USDA Wildlife Services and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Services. He addressed the news of the latest threat from feral pigs that have been nicknamed the “super pig.”

“Where they get that terminology from is they are no different than the wild pigs we have. They are just a cross between the European wild boar and our feral pigs,” Alls said. “They’ve got the survivability and adaptability of the wild boar but the reproducibility capability of the domestic pig. Instead of having four pigs once a year, they are having 10-12 twice a year.”

With the 2018 Farm Bill, Oklahoma was awarded $6 million for direct control work, and all of that money was put into nine counties. Cherokee County was not one of those chosen for this effort, although it is being worked with, Alls said.

“We put a lot of emphasis on hogs in those counties to demonstrate the more pressure you put on [them], the more good you can do,” Alls said. “We don’t know the number of pigs in the state, but it cut the damage way back, so we know we are doing well.”

The new farm bill has not been approved yet by Congress, but a one-year extension was given through FY 2024.

“They say there’s no appetite for reducing pig funding, and hopefully there will be some increases,” Alls said.

Efforts of this farm bill is to try and get as many landowners signed up as possible, contiguously. The OCD, aside from giving grant funds, supplied traps to hunters and landowners.

“Last year in the state program, we trapped 14,000 and got 13,000 with the helicopter,” Alls said. “About 30 people were working on this statewide.”

State Sen. Blake Cowboy Stephens, R-District 3, said efforts are being made to educate landowners and producers and letting them know this program is available and how to sign up for it. People can go to www.aphis.usda.gov and click on the link “Wildlife Services.”

“Not everybody rolls out the red carpet and says, ‘Come on my land and take care of these feral hogs,'” Stephens said.

Those who don’t allow it are hunting the pigs themselves or leasing out their land to hunters that want the pigs, Alls said.

Pigs are safe to eat, as long as the meat is cooked to above 165 degrees, but they do carry diseases like pseudorabies virus, and swine brucellosis, a disease that affects reproductive ability in domestic swine but feral pigs are immune to it. Both diseases are transmittable to humans while field-dressing the animal if not protected by gloves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine brucellosis can cause severe, long-lasting health problems, and even death, if it is not diagnosed and treated quickly. Pseudorabies can induce human encephalitis, but a definitive diagnosis of human PRV encephalitis is debatable due to the lack of PRV DNA.

Stephens hasn’t had a lot of problems with damage from feral pigs on his ranch, as they come and go and may leave for as long as a year.

“I’ve got a satellite boar that just roams. These boars are looking for sows to service, and then you may have a whole sounder – what you call a group of pigs,” Stephens said. “I’ve had tons of hogs all at once and they stay for months, and the next thing you know, they leave and a lot of times it’s pressure that makes them leave.”

One of Stephens’ hay meadows he leases in Salina was torn up and it happened quickly – between the baling and getting it off of the field – in one day’s time.

“When you bale the hay, you have to mow it, rake it, let it cure and come in behind it to bale it. It’s a constant battle to keep it in shape [after these pigs come through] which is more fuel, labor, and it tears up your already established pasture or hay meadow,” Stephens said. “It costs us a lot of money.”

The pig problem is manmade, Stephens said. People have bought pigs, hauled them out to the wild and released them so they can be hunted.

“That’s where the problem stemmed from, is domesticated swine that have been released out into the wild,” Stephens said.