Monday, August 15, 2016

Numbers matter in Missouri’s feral hog fight

MDC regional hog coordinator compares the past, present and future of the feral hog problem.
PIEDMONT, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and its partners can’t help but look at the numbers when it comes to feral hogs. Mark McLain is MDC’s feral hog team coordinator for the southeast region. When he added up the number of hogs trapped over the last two years, he realized those weren’t the only hogs that were taken off the land.
The southeast region hog team trapped 1,453 hogs in 2015 and 1,707 hogs so far in 2016. Add in the reproduction factor of feral hogs and the impact is huge.
“If half of those hogs were female, which is usually the case, and those females had two litters this year with an average of six piglets each, that’s almost 19,000 feral hogs that would’ve been destroying our southeast Missouri habitat and crops in 2016 if we hadn’t done anything,” McLain said.
“One hog can destroy an entire field in one night, so imagine what 19,000 hogs would’ve done,” he said.
McLain became the region’s feral hog coordinator in 2011, but the feral hog problem wasn’t new to him then. Feral hogs have roamed Missouri’s southeast region for more than 25 years, according to McLain, after misguided sportsmen illegally released hogs for hunting purposes in Wayne, Reynolds and Iron counties. MDC has locked arms with multiple agencies and partners in an organized effort to eradicate the hogs that have spread across the region and into other areas of the state. These cooperative efforts are paying off.
Partner government agencies include MDC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services (USDA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources. Other organizations involved in Missouri’s feral hog fight are the Missouri Farm Bureau, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever, Quality Deer Management Association, Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, Missouri Corn Growers Association, Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Pork Association, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Agribusiness Association, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, and Missouri Farmers Association.
“Our team is dedicated and determined to make a bad situation better,” McLain said.
One of the ways the situation has improved is in trapping technology. McLain said the first traps that were used were corral traps with three 16-foot long panels and a three-foot wide rooter gate. It worked well, but they’ve found what works better.  Corrals were enlarged to four or five panels and six-foot drop gates, which meant more hogs would enter the trap faster because of the larger opening. These larger traps obviously caught more hogs, meaning an entire sounder of hogs could be caught at one time. This was important because hogs are adaptive and would spread out to other areas and avoid the traps later if they weren’t caught the first time in the trap.
The latest trap design is even better, according to McLain. The BoarBuster and Falling Panel Trap are suspended in the air and very fast. The BoarBuster is wirelessly triggered with video surveillance. The trapper can watch the video from a cell phone and wait to drop the panels the moment the entire sounder is inside the trap.
“These are efficient and we can catch hogs sometimes as soon as four hours after we set it up,” McLain said. “Thirty-eight hogs in a trap at once is our record.”
Trapping as many hogs as possible at one time is important considering the amount of traps available versus the need. MDC and the USDA work with landowners to teach them how to tend hog traps on their own land, so the dedicated five hog-trapping employees can continue to trap on public lands and assist new landowners who call in with hog damage.
“Last year we helped 144 landowners,” McLain said. “This year, so far, we have helped more than 80 new landowners in our region who’ve reported hog damage. We tend to have around 100 new landowners each year who call for help and we have approximately 60 hog traps out over the southeast region.”
The amount of landowners reporting damage demonstrates improvements in another aspect of the feral hog fight – public awareness.
“People are hearing from the news and seeing billboards about how to get help removing feral hogs from their property,” McLain said. “We’re doing everything we can to inform the public not just about the problem of feral hogs, but what to do if they have damage or see hogs on their land – and that’s contact MDC.”
McLain said landowners should immediately report feral hog sightings to MDC online atmdc.mo.gov/feralhog [make link live in GovDelivery]or call their local MDC or USDA office. McLain also said word of mouth has been very effective in spreading the word about hogs.
“Hearing that a neighbor has hog damage motivates landowners to action,” McLain said. “Thoughtful neighbors will warn each other and do what they can to help each other avoid the experience of hog damage.”
Overall, McLain said he knows there is a lot of work ahead in the fight against feral hogs. However, the high numbers caught by improved traps, the number of partners working together and the number of cooperative landowners point towards a hopeful future of eradicating feral hogs in Missouri.