By MARIAN GALBRAITH
The growing population of wild hogs in Tennessee has become a major problem, Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) told The News during a recent visit to a law enforcement leadership conference in Tullahoma.
According to the TWRA website and other sources, wild hogs, also referred to as feral hogs or feral swine, cause roughly $1.5 billion per year nationally in damage to crops, livestock and wildlife habitats as well as environmental damage from erosion into waterways and elimination of certain species within the food chain.
Website information says although they are slightly smaller than domesticated pigs, wild hogs are destructive, nocturnal creatures that eat almost anything and can survive almost any climate as they “root” through the ground, destroying crops, vegetables, worms, and essentially everything in their paths.
Affected farmers have said their fields looked as if a bulldozer had come through after a wild hog attack during the night that left every plant uprooted and destroyed.
“We’ve also seen one running through the woods with a small fawn in its mouth,” Carter said, “so they can definitely harm small animals, too.”
As in Texas and several other states, the problem has reached such disastrous proportions locally that TWRA has recently implemented a multi-pronged eradication program, which is detailed on its website.
“Wild hogs were imported here in the late 1800s from Eastern Europe for game hunting and they’ve gradually mixed in with domesticated pigs that have been released or escaped confinement,” Carter said.
“Sows become sexually active at six months and can have two litters per year with anywhere from four to ten piglets each.”
With females able to produce 10 to 20 offspring per year for up to 14 years of age, TWRA officials say that wild hog population, once introduced to a new area, can increase dramatically each year.
Carter added that while wild hogs used to be confined to the Great Smoky Mountains area, they have recently moved west across Tennessee and were seen as far west as Memphis last year.
While none have been reported to the TWRA in Coffee or Franklin counties, they have become a serious problem in the Crossville and Columbia areas.
Franklin County, which has large tracts of forested, mountainous terrain, could already have feral hogs in those areas that have not been reported.
Carter added that part of the reason the hogs have proliferated in so many states is because hunters have transported them to new environments for local big-game hunting.
“If someone decides to trap a few and transport them to your area, you can develop a serious problem very quickly,” he said.
Unfortunately, hunting alone has been insufficient in controlling their numbers, Carter said, and hunting has now been outlawed on public land in Tennessee.
“It may sound counterintuitive,” Carter said, “but we’ve had to outlaw the hunting of wild hogs on public lands to remove the incentive for trappers to move them to new locations.”
While there is wide latitude for landowners and their designees to kill the pests on private lands — with certain exemptions — and they can be killed as part of certain other large-game hunts, trapping and hunting for wild hogs on public land is now considered a Class B misdemeanor with fines up to $500 including court costs. Transporting them live without proper clearance carries a $2,500 fine.
“You can hunt them on your own land and allow up to ten people to help you with an exemption,” Carter said, “but on public land we have removed them from the big game category to the ‘nuisance’ category.”
At this point, he said, the agency is using intensive trapping and penning to kill as many as 20 to 30 hogs at a time.
“Last year alone, we eradicated more than 4,000 as part of this program, but that’s still not enough to completely control the population.”
Once trapped by TWRA, he said, they must be shot and buried and cannot be given away as food to the public due to liability issues.
“About five to ten percent of these hogs carry diseases that can be spread to livestock and other animals,” he said, “so before humans could safely eat them, they would have to be cooked thoroughly.”
He added that a TWRA employee recently contracted brucellosis, a flu-like respiratory infection, from handling wild hogs and had to undergo a strong round of antibiotics.
He said they also carry pseudorabies, which can be deadly to domesticated pigs and some other animals.
TWRA spokesman Doug Markham also added that while private landowners may trap, kill and/or dispose of the animals however they wish to on their own lands, they must assume all liabilities and cannot transport them live to other locations.
In addition to being slightly smaller than domestic swine, wild hogs have more hair and longer snouts. They are mostly dark in color, although colors vary widely.
An instructional video on the TWRA website also describes them as having a more bison-like shape compared to domesticated pigs, with shoulders slightly wider than their hips.
For more information visit the website address www.tn.gov/twra/feralhog.html
Marian Galbraith can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.