Thursday, November 14, 2013

Allow farmers, hunters to exterminate feral hogs

Feral hogs – wild free-roaming pigs – are the latest in a never-ending series of invasive species having a huge impact on our economy and environment.

Farms in the South and West have been especially besieged by the swine, where their insatiable appetites and scavenging ways account for $1.5 billion in agricultural damage every year.

Their pillaging is not limited to crops as they are altering forests at an unprecedented pace, destroying nutrient-rich topsoil (which results in erosion) while killing and consuming saplings, precious wildflowers and ground dwelling birds. 

They’re virtually uncontrollable as they can have litters of up to 8 piglets several times a year. 

And, they’re coming to a neighborhood near you.

Over the past half-dozen years feral hogs have made a home in the Empire State. So far, they have been found to maintain breeding populations in 6 New York counties, mostly in the central portion of the state. They have also made themselves known elsewhere; including a well-publicized sighting in Allegany State Park in 2009 and incidental appearances throughout Western New York (my trail camera photographed one in the wilds of Allegany County this fall).

The state, for the most part, has been trying to stop them. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), working in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), has orchestrated numerous roundups and exterminations in an attempt to suppress the invasion. The state legislature even did well for itself in passing a bill this year banning the importation, sale and transfer of Eurasian boars in New York. The law essentially brings to an end canned hunts on game preserves for these beasts – those are places from which boars were escaping into the wild.

While the agency does not officially endorse feral hogs as a dedicated target species, the DEC has allowed, even encouraged, hunters to eradicate any feral hogs that they see in the field while hunting other wild game.

That may soon come to an end.

It was reported in New York Outdoor News last week that the DEC was given power to regulate all things feral hogs and officials are now weighing a ban on the hunting of the animals. They say that targeting and killing the pigs does not help the DEC or USDA in their eradication efforts because it is believed the hunters will scatter the animals, breaking up their passels and making collection by government agents almost impossible.

Outright prohibition of hog harvesting would be one of the worst things that the DEC could do for farming and the very environment it is charged to protect.

Imagine a farmer who sees wild pigs decimating his corn. Under a ban, he could do nothing to stop them. He would have to put in a call to game officers who (already understaffed and underfunded) would have to coordinate the personnel and resources for a roundup. That could take days, maybe weeks. By then, a farm could have incurred thousands of dollars in losses.

Or, think of the tens of thousands of deer hunters in the woods every fall. That army is the very best option New Yorkers have for totally eliminating feral hogs – they are stealthily venturing into areas that typically see little human presence the rest of the year, so they have a good chance of encountering the secretive hogs and, with gun in hand, wiping them out. Were the ban a reality, they would be unable to take aim and would have to report their sightings to the DEC. When would the state get to it? Certainly not in the fall when their attention is on the deer harvest and gleaning revenues from sportsmen.

So, if you are a farmer who cares about the security of your land or a nature lover who cares about the state of our forests, take the time to write the DEC and let them know that banning public extermination of feral hogs will lead to a population explosion and, ultimately, the destruction of our fields and woodlands.  

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer.

This column originally appeared in the 18 November 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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