Wild boars are a known threat to large farmers and landowners, but new research shows that wild boars in Alabama can also affect the state’s wildlife.
Researchers at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System are investigating the effects these pigs can have on streams and rivers, as well as commercially important animal groups such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.
“We usually see significant increases in turkeys about two years after the pigs are kept away,” said Mark Smith, the extension agent who is collaborating on the project.
The research has yet to be published, but Smith said the team saw a modest increase in turkey numbers even in the first year after the pigs were removed — likely just because turkeys are more free to roam and be seen on game cameras. He said the second year after the pigs were removed shows a significant increase in turkey numbers.
Pigs – which will generally eat just about anything – may also outpace other species at certain types of food, as well as taking over habitats and disrupting local ecosystems.
“Pigs consume about 23-24% of the nuts out there,” Smith said. “Obviously there is some competition with local food resources.”
In addition, Smith said that auburn researchers are looking at the effects of pigs on water quality in Alabama, which may be more serious than expected.
“When the pigs get in there and start rooting in the streams, you get some sediment,” Smith said. “And most importantly when they defecate in those streams, like. coli levels go across the surface.”
Smith said that changed his stance on letting his 7-year-olds play in the stream water they come across.
“When you have a high density of pigs, you don’t go play in the water,” he said. “As you can imagine, they like to get into every piece of water they can get into, but with what I know now, some of the highest e. Coli are loaded into streams where there is a high density of pigs, and I keep my kids away from the water because they are bad things very “.
It’s bad for the farmer too
The effects on wildlife come on top of the better documented effects on crop rows and grazing land.
Nationally, the USDA estimates that feral pigs cause $1.5 billion in damage each year in the United States, but says that “ongoing research indicates that costs associated with these invasive species in the United States are likely to be much higher.”
Brian Grace, a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said it’s hard to put together a statewide estimate of how much harm wild boars are causing to farmers and other property owners, but that the total “would easily be in the tens of millions of dollars.”
Much of this damage comes when pigs use their long teeth – called tushes – to plow in farmers’ fields or even grassy meadows to forage in dirt.
Grace said the volume of calls he receives complaining about wild boar damage peaks in the spring, when farmers plant row crops that the pigs will dig up again.
“From the end of February to early June, we got a lot of calls from mainly agricultural individuals,” Grace said. “So the farmers, whether row crop farmers or men who have cattle, or hay fields, or cattle.
“The pigs are very active all year round, but this is the time when our call volume goes up the most.”
What do you do about the wild boars on your property
Smith and Grace agree that the best way to remove pigs from an area is to use traps that will catch the original or the entire group of pigs.
Grace said that while Alabama has relaxed state restrictions on wild boar hunting — allowing hunting year-round, and at night with a special license — trapping remains the best way to control the population.
Smith said that wild boars reproduce at impressive rates, and are smart enough to learn how to avoid hunters or other traps.
“We’re dealing with an animal that starts breeding at about six months of age and can have a litter of four to six little pigs twice a year,” Smith said. “This group can grow much faster than, say, the number of deer, and that makes it more difficult to control or manage.”
Smith said the only way to effectively control pig populations is through trapping.
“Just shoot a pig here or there a barbecue,” Smith said. “Yes, you can shoot a few, kill some, but you don’t put an impact on this population.
“So for landowners, just jump right into the chase, and start catching these big barn-style traps, in most cases.”
These traps are usually round fences assembled with a bait in the middle and a gate that is often operated remotely.
Newer versions of traps include cameras and a mobile app so the landlord can watch the pigs enter the trap and move the gate to close it when they’re all inside.
By law, pigs trapped in Alabama must be killed on site. It is illegal to move live wild boars in Alabama due to the potential for the pigs to be released into new areas. It is believed that some of the spread of pigs in recent decades has been driven by people’s release of pigs into new areas for hunting purposes.
The Alabama Department of Natural Resources Conservation has more information about hog control on its website.
Some property owners may qualify for federal assistance through the USDA program administered here by the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
Qualified land owners can receive free consultations from the USDA Wildlife Services, as well as reimbursement of up to 70% on the costs of their trapping equipment.