Solving Colleton’s feral pig dilemma | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | May 12, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: May 11, 2016 at 2:01 pm
New Colleton agent needs public’s help in gathering information on feral swine.
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Senior Agriculture Agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension Marion Barnes has nothing good to say about feral swine.
“They are not a good thing running out in the wild,” Barnes said. “We are facing a serious problem with feral swine. They are becoming more prevalent in Colleton and surrounding counties.”
Barnes is a member of the state’s Wild Hog Task Force, a group of officials on a state and national level assigned the task of assessing the problem, developing possible solutions and educating the public about the threat posed by feral swine.
Last month Barnes attended an international wild pig conference in Myrtle Beach that delved into the problem.
“It is a growing concern and problem across the United States,” Barnes said. “We have got feral pigs in every county in this state.”
And the problem has been growing in recent years. “Their damage to environment, woodlands, row crops and pastures is increasing,” he said.
In addition to the damage they cause to crops, feral swine carry a number of diseases that can be transmitted to humans and livestock. Barnes added that in California, feral swine have been found to adversely affect water quality.
The damage they represent to South Carolina agriculture is in the millions of dollars, but an accurate estimate has never been set.
That should change soon. S.C. Farm Bureau sponsored a survey last year, polling farmers and other landowners about the damage of feral swine in South Carolina. “As far as I know, it is the first survey of its kind in the state,” Barnes said.
Clemson University is working on the results of that survey and those results should be released shortly.
The number of feral swine in the state is increasing for several reasons, according to Barnes. “They are probably the most prolific of any mammal we deal with.” A feral sow will have at least two litters of between six and eight piglets each year.
Because they are a non-native invasive species in America, he said, “They have very few natural enemies and their populations are going unchecked.”
The options available to control the population are few, according to Barnes.
Hunting them is the most used option, but Barnes explained, “Hunters take just a small portion of what is out there.”
Charles Ruth Jr. of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources recently completed his latest assessment of deer hunting in the state. That survey of deer hunters also asked about any wild hogs they had shot. The results, Ruth said, lead him to estimate that 33,000 wild hogs were harvested during the last deer hunting season. He pointed out that that same survey placed the number of deer harvested at 200,000.
As deer hunters normally account for most of the wild hog killed in the state, Ruth can use the number of wild hogs reported killed to produce a ball-park estimate of the number of feral swine in S.C. Generally, about 25 percent of an area’s wild swine are killed by hunters, so Ruth estimates that there are between 125,000 and 150,000 feral swine.
“Trapping has proven to be the best bet,” Barnes said. But, trapping a feral swine differs from trapping other animals.
“Trapping an individual pig is not doing a lot — you want to trap the family units, called founders,” Barnes said. The trap has to be large enough to capture the sow and all the piglets at the same time.
“If don’t catch all members of the family unit, they become trap shy and become harder to catch,” Barnes explained.
Barnes said that researchers at Mississippi State provide excellent information on trapping.
Some landowners have employed use of dogs to catch the wild pigs, but many times, using the dogs just ends up causing the rest of the founders to move to neighboring property.
During the Myrtle Beach conference, Barnes said, several research papers on birth controls methods being examined were presented. That scientific investigation is in its early stages of development, Barnes said, “and may never be feasible.”
“If we don’t take steps and measures to control these animals, landowners and farmers are going to suffer worse than they are now,” Barnes said.