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Feral hogs a threat in Virginia, crowd told at meeting

Feral hogs are everywhere in Virginia. They can be found from the mountains to the beaches, according to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Wildlife Biologist Glen Askins.

Askins along with fellow Wildlife Biologist Aaron Proctor conducted a seminar — “Feral Hogs in Virginia: What We Know and Why We Care” — Monday night in Scottsburg.

Approximately 50 people turned out at the Scottsburg Volunteer Fire Department to learn about wild hogs like where they came from, how they reproduce, the threats they pose, and what the state is doing to get rid of the nuisance animals. 

 Proctor explained hogs originally descended from Eurasion wild boars, and domestication took place 9,000 years ago when their appearance began to change.  

Feral hogs have populated regions south of Virginia Beach for over a century, he said.

Sexually mature by the age of six months, feral hogs can produce up to three litters in 14 months. With no defined breeding season, the animals breed year-round.

Because feral hogs reproduce rapidly and don’t die easily, a population can triple in a year, Proctor said

The only way to stabilize a population is to remove at least 70 percent each year, and they are nearly impossible to eradicate.  

When colonists were first settling in America, settlers brought free-range pigs with them to America. Christopher Columbus brought eight, according to Proctor. 

Agencies managed them as game
animals, and some expanded from naturally established populations. Others were moved to different states for hunting purposes.

Proctor showed a map depicting feral hog populations in the United States in 1988. When compared to more recent population maps, marked increases are evident.

Feral hogs pose threats to wildlife, cause ecological damage, crop damage and disease concerns. For that reason, the United States Department of Agriculture ranks feral hogs as the most invasive species in the country.

Because they present a direct competition for food, feral hogs pose threats to wildlife, preying on small animals like salamanders, snakes, frogs and whitetail deer fawns. They also prey on ground nesting birds like turkey, quail, and grouse, Proctor said. 

Root damage is another threat feral hogs pose. The boars’ rooting causes soil erosion and damage to sensitive plant communities that interrupts natural nutrient cycling and causes water contamination and the spread of invasive plants.

It is estimated feral hogs cost farmers $1.5 million annually nationwide, Proctor said. 

Feral hogs damage vegetables, corn, soybeans, fruit trees, small grain and pine seedlings, and they also have damaged infrastructure like pond levees, fences and irrigation equipment.

Hogs heighten the risk of diseases in domesticated pigs by carrying swine brucellosis, pseudo rabies and various other diseases. Feral hogs also can carry internal parasites like lung worms and kidney worms.

In addition to Virginia, feral hogs have been found in Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Currently, Virginia legislators are working to create new laws to deal with nuisance hogs, according to the wildlife biologist. Swine are defined as livestock in Virginia, but no distinction is made between captive and free swine. 

The state also has declared feral hogs as a nuisance species. To own swine legally in Virginia is very complicated, Proctor said. And the laws governing swine vary from county to county.

For example, Augusta County is a fenced-in county meaning if a pig owner has pigs to escape, the owner is responsible for damage caused to other’s property. 

Rockingham County is a fenced-out county meaning if pigs escape, the owners of adjacent property are responsible for having the proper fencing to keep them off their property. 

The  Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has held joint meetings with other state agencies (VDACS, USDA-WS, USDA- NRCS, USFWS) to work toward a swine management solution.

“Virginia is ahead of the game because there are no established pens, and there is not a strong hog hunting tradition in Virginia,” Proctor said. “Population densities and distributions are low in Virginia.”

 Following Proctor’s presentation, Askins explained the government is working to handle the feral hog problem.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is working with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to manage the problem and control loose feral swine. 

Askins said the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries plans to explore transport and release issues and potential control methods landowners can use.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also has an agreement with the USDA-WS, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to control and eradicate feral hogs in Virginia. 

 The groups also have gained support for their feral hog eradication efforts from the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Pork Industry Association.

Recently, the department organized a Hogs Road Show visiting affected areas to educate people about feral hogs.

During a question and answer session that followed the wildlife biologists’ presentations, concerns were raised about where these feral hogs are most likely to be found, how to identify a diseased hog, whether blood tests have been taken on hogs killed in Virginia and whether poisoning feral hogs is legal.

Feral hogs can be found anywhere, and Askins said, “If the animal doesn’t look right or smell right, leave it alone.”

United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Director Scott Barras explained blood tests have been conducted on hogs in Virginia, and they have been found to be “relatively clean” although the population for Culpeper has tested positive for psuedorabies.