by Hope Holland
For years people have heard that Texas and Florida has had a problem with feral hogs. It is estimated that of the possibly 6 million of these hogs in the United States, Texas is dealing with at least 2.3 million of them and that Florida has close to a million.They are omnivorous, eating anything that is in reach, inclusive of plants, roots, the eggs of ground nesting birds — and the birds themselves, given a chance — as well as small animals and even fawns as well as predation of livestock (lambs, kid goats, and calves). The damage that they do to farmer’s fields have put them on the “most wanted — dead” list of any farmer with an infestation of these voracious rooters on his property.
In an article from July of 2014, Dr. Matthew Lovallo, Wildlife Biologist of the Pennsylvania Game Commission warned that, “Feral swine are known to carry 18 viral diseases, 10 of which can infect people, and 10 bacterial diseases, all of which cause disease in humans. Swine Brucellosis is a potentially debilitating human disease, and pseudorabies is a disease with significant potential economic importance to Pennsylvania’s swine industry. Feral swine are reservoirs for numerous parasites that can affect people, pets, livestock and wildlife.
People usually contract ailments carried by feral swine through contact with affected blood, tissues or aerosol droplets, or by consuming undercooked meat from infected animals. It is also possible for these diseases to be contracted through exposure to other animals originally infected by feral swine. Hunters are advised to take safety precautions when dressing wild/feral swine. Pseudorabies not only affects swine, but is fatal to deer, cattle, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and small rodents. Both brucellosis and pseudorabies can be detected through blood tests, but there is no effective treatment for either disease. Disease symptoms range widely, from flu-like ailments to fever, weight loss, organ failure, and death.”
Here in the mid-central and north east states we have shaken our heads in shared misery with those who have had to deal with that plague of hogs. Until now they have been a distant threat. However it seems that, like most infestations, this one has spread.
There are an estimated 3,000 feral hogs now in at least five counties in Pennsylvania with reports of feral hogs in West Virginia as well as a few of the hogs noted in Maryland. Virginia also has a population of the swine over several of its counties. Because of the Potomac River that divides Maryland from the Virginia and much of West Virginia country it is thought that the few hogs noted in Maryland are entering from Pennsylvania to the north. There are also feral swine populations in counties along the borders of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Where they came from is also open to question. Blame abounds but actual culpability is moot although many fingers are pointed at game farm runaways and swine deliberately turned loose by ill advised, wannabe hog hunters.
It is interesting to note that, according to USDA maps, New York had a feral swine population in 2014 but that it was seen to be feral swine free on the 2015 USDA map which is encouraging but highly unusual for infested states.
Benning DeLaMater. Public Information Officer, Office of Media Relations for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, stated in response to a question about this finding that, “A number of Eurasian boar escaped from enclosed shooting facilities in New York during the 1990s and 2000s and began breeding in the wild in six counties in Central New York. An eradication program implemented by DEC and the USDA’s Wildlife Services in 2008 completely eliminated these free-ranging Eurasian boar. DEC and the USDA have instituted an intensive monitoring program and continue to investigate all feral swine sightings.
It has been a success, since DEC has not detected feral swine in New York since October 2014.
It is illegal to possess Eurasian boars and their hybrids, and they are no longer allowed in any enclosed shooting facilities in the state. 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 so they could hunt. This illegal release is the primary way the feral swine population is expanding across the U.S.
- October 2013, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation making it illegal to import, breed, or release Eurasian boars in New York State.
- April 2014, hunting and trapping free-ranging Eurasian boar in New York State was made illegal.
- September 2015, a new law was enacted making it illegal to possess, sell, distribute, trade, or transport Eurasian boar within New York State.
Eurasian boars are a great threat to natural resources, agricultural interests, and private property and public safety wherever they occur and DEC will continue to work to protect these resources and ensure wild boars remain out of the state.”
According to the PA Game Commission, the first two of seven statements covering actions to be taken to eradicate the feral swine, taken from a document titled In re: Feral Swine response – removal of protection says:
- Protection on Feral Swine is removed statewide, except in those counties containing official eradication trapping operations as indicated on the Commission website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
- Licensed hunters and trappers or persons who qualify for license and fee exceptions …shall be eligible to participate in the unlimited taking (killing) of Feral Swine by firearm, bow or crossbow in any county where protection on Feral Swine has been removed.
Contact with Travis Lau, Communications Director for the PA Game Commission elicited the information that there has recently been very little swine activity according to his regional supervisors, but it should also be said that the USDA 2016 Feral Swine map still shows populations in 13 counties in Pennsylvania.
The automatic response for many states with feral swine problems seems to be creating an open season on feral swine with no season or bag limit restrictions to help control the population which seems reasonable given the damage that they can do to a farmer’s land, wooded areas and livestock. The PA Game Commission says it does not promote swine hunting on a recreational basis, and has therefore not created regulations to set seasons or bag limits for swine but which does leave a seemingly open season for those whose lands are under threat from the swine.