U.S. is preparing to defend against an invasion of feral Canadian swine

U.S. is preparing to defend against an invasion of feral Canadian swine

Author: Tyler Dawson

Published: May 30, 2019, 4:06 PM EDT

EDMONTON — While Canadian provinces try to grapple with wild pigs wreaking havoc across the country, states in the northern U.S. are on guard against any swine that make an attempt to cross the 49th.

“It appears as though if and when we get feral pigs, they’ll come from Saskatchewan or maybe even Alberta,” said John Steuber, state director of Wildlife Services in Montana. “We know the damage that they’ve done in other states, south of us in particular … the state has taken a really strong stance to try to prevent the establishment of any feral swine.”

The feral pigs, descendants of Eurasian pigs brought to Canada in the 1980s and ’90s for agricultural diversification, are an ecological menace in Canada and the southern United States, eating and destroying vegetation and native species and generally running amok. Recent research from the University of Saskatchewan shows they’re spreading rapidly across Canada, with a presence in all provinces except the Maritimes.

Wild pigs already exist in the southern United States, having been brought over centuries ago as a food source, and are considered a major scourge; entire industries exist to kill the pigs through whatever means possible, notably in Texas. More than 30 U.S. states have reported their presence. Now, there’s a distinction worth making: many wild pigs are recently domesticated but escaped or were released; these aren’t hogs that have migrated from Canada but ones that have turned feral within a few generations.

Authorities in the northern states are now concerned the pigs and their problems may arrive in their territory, too. There have been sightings, here and there, across the northern United States over the years, but no population has managed to establish itself effectively. Take Idaho, which had sightings of wild pigs in the southern portion of the state, in the Bruneau Valley. Roger Phillips, the public information supervisor with Idaho fish and game, said he knew of one report, but the state never was able to find the pig in question.

“It kind of disappeared, so whatever happened to him, we don’t really know,” Phillips said. “Of course there’s always concern that if there’s one there’s others, but it’s been years … and we haven’t heard any other reports of them in that area.”

North Dakota has had a couple instances, both of regular domesticated pigs escaping or being let loose and then turning feral, but there have also been Eurasian boars up near the border with Manitoba, in the Turtle Mountains, due south from Brandon, Man., said Casey Anderson, the assistant chief of the wildlife division with North Dakota game and fish.

“You kinda think, ‘Oh, they’re not gonna make it too long in our winter.’ They’re actually building, like, giant muskrat huts out of cattails,” he said. “They are resourceful buggers.”

Anderson said he figures it’s been around a decade since the last Eurasian boar was found in the state, most of them are escaped domestic pigs.

North Dakotans aren’t allowed to shoot what they might think is a wild pig: This may seem counterintuitive if the state wants to eliminate the population, but pigs are smart, and if you kill one pig in the herd the others will learn to keep themselves safe, making them harder to eradicate in the end. That, plus the state doesn’t want hunters shooting someone else’s pigs who might’ve escaped. But if they are proper wild pigs, either those that have become wild or come in from Canada, they’re hunted down by officials and eliminated.

“They’re kind of amazing critters … it only takes a few generations for them to become essentially almost a wild pig again,” said Anderson.

Montana, too, is keeping an eye on the feral pigs in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The closest ones seem to be within about 16 kilometres from the border, explained Steuber, crediting University of Saskatchewan professor Ryan Brook with providing most of the information about the pigs in Canada.

There are no established populations yet, but in 2018, a reported pig sighting in Phillips County, Mont. — it butts up against Saskatchewan south of Swift Current — led to an airborne pig hunt that lasted for 13.5 hours of flying time. They never did find it, and so were unable to confirm the sighting. Still, ranchers and farmers are definitely concerned about the possibility of feral hog migrants.

“We don’t want any more invasive species in the state,” said Steuber.

In response to concerns over the hogs, the state legislature, in 2015, made it illegal to import or possess or hunt the hogs (the logic being this would prevent their release for sport hunting). This, said Justin Bush, executive co-ordinator with the Washington Invasive Species Council, was a tremendously wise move because some of the pigs found in northern states were of the same stock as those found in other states, suggesting they were brought in intentionally.

The states of Washington, Idaho and Oregon have banded together with a “Squeal on Pigs!” program, urging people to report sightings of feral swine — although, in Oregon at least, they mostly come from California and not from Canada. Bush estimates they get a couple calls per month about pigs on the loose, so that there can be a co-ordinated government response.

“You can’t shoot your way out of it, recreational tools and techniques just aren’t effective eradication techniques,” Bush said. “It doesn’t matter if it has tusks, or it looks like Wilbur the friendly pig, if it’s out of captivity, call this number immediately.”

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