Author: Matthew Dollard
Published: April 17, 2019
Feral hogs have long been known in Missouri as an invasive species capable of mass destruction of agriculture. Their aggressive rooting can lay waste to a field in a single night, costing farmers dearly.
Several counties in Southeast Missouri have become a primary battleground in recent years in the fight to eliminate feral hogs. Trappers from the Missouri Department of Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies, with the help and participation of landowners, have been successful in removing hundreds of hogs from the region, but illegal reintroduction techniques by hog hunters, and the animals’ rapid rate of reproduction keep the population coming back.
“Hogs are social animals that travel in groups called sounders,” according to the MDC website. “Shooting one or two hogs scatters the sounder and makes trapping efforts aimed at catching the entire group at once more difficult, because hogs become trap-shy and more wary of baited sites.”
On April 8, a boar weighing some 130 pounds was killed by a vehicle on Interstate 55 near Dutchtown, likely a result of flooding, according to Matthew Peter, MDC feral-hog coordinator for Southeast Missouri.
“Feral hogs usually will use these diversion channels, creeks or rivers across the state to travel,” Peter said. “He probably got flooded out of one area, so he just kept on moving through until he found himself on the highway.”
Peter said much of Cape Girardeau is too urbanized for hogs, but surrounding areas, parts of Perry and Bollinger counties, have been a focus of elimination efforts.
According to the USDA, 32 hogs were taken from Bollinger County in 2015, the first year of trapping there. Two-hundred-eighty feral hogs were removed from Bollinger County in 2018; and so far in 2019, 121.
“The main reason for that increase is not only increased staffing — it’s landowner participation, which is very, very important to the success of this operation,” Peter said. “If we were to just trap feral hogs on public land, and not on any surrounding properties, then the feral hogs would just seek refuge on neighboring landowners.”
Peter said one trapper who has worked the Castor River in Wayne and Bollinger counties for three years has reported significant declines in damages caused by hog rooting since he began trapping in the area.
“Right now, he’s just working one sounder of hogs, and he’s already got 61 for the year,” Peter said.
One landowner in southwest Bollinger County, whose farm borders the Castor River, said his experience with hogs began with small traces but soon escalated.
“We had a 6-acre hayfield and it was completely rooted up, looked like you had plowed it almost, just destroyed it, and that’s when we called MDC, and they immediately came out and investigated it and said just a few hogs could do that over night,” said the landowner, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of hog hunters encroaching on his farm for sport.
He said the damage spread to nearly every field on the lower part of his land. But his concern was also for the game animals on his property — deer and turkey are left with far less forest food as a result of the hogs’ presence.
He even had daytime run-ins with the sounder, and said he feared for his dog that chased after the animals. He contacted MDC again and agents were on scene the next day.
The landowner said the trapper worked methodically, baiting the area and observing the sounder’s behavior with trail cameras. He then set the trap, a large corral suspended above bait, which drops down to the ground encircling the group when triggered.
The trap “got all of them,” he said. “All 20 of them. And 20 hogs can devastate a field overnight.”
There are established hog populations in more than 30 counties in Missouri, according to state feral-hog coordinator and MDC biologist Alan Leary, but their spread is unlike that of armadillos and other nonnative species that move north because of warmer climates. It is often times caused by humans who intentionally release captured hogs into the wild to provide hunting opportunities.
Leary said MDC and other departments are actively searching out perpetrators, because it is hurting the rest of the citizens in the state.
“These animals do tremendous amount of damage to our natural resources,” he said. “They compete directly with our native wildlife for resources; they eat ground-nesting birds and other native wildlife; they lower water quality; they cause soil erosion; they destroy glades and other natural communities and they are a big threat to agricultural industry as well, because they carry a lot of diseases, at least 35 diseases that have been identified.”
Leary said when hunters were allowed to kill hogs anywhere, anytime and by any method, the feral-hog population increased significantly. The policy changed in 2016, and there is now a ban on the killing of feral hogs on land owned, leased or managed by MDC.
Leary encouraged the reporting of feral hogs or signs of them to MDC rather than killing them. To report feral hogs, call (573) 522-4115, ext. 3296, or file a report at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website, www.mdc.mo.gov..
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