Feral Hogs in Missouri: Illegal release and transport has driven up the damage over decades

subhead: The feral hog business has a long history of causing problems for Missourians.

The increased feral hog elimination efforts by the Missouri Feral Hog Elimination Partnership (the Partnership) underway on public and private land in southeast and south-central Missouri is the latest chapter in Missouri’s long fight to defend the state against the nuisance animals. Ongoing winter operations mirror the adapted philosophy that’s also taking place elsewhere in the U.S. as an increasing number of states realize hunting is an inefficient method of eliminating a creature neither farmers nor recreational enthusiasts want on the landscape.

The Partnership is made up of several organizations, but active on the ground efforts involve staff from Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), USDA APHIS Wildlife Services and the L-A-D Foundation.

In Missouri, hard-working farmers and responsible landowners have a long history of hating feral hogs. One of the state’s early livestock fencing laws, a St. Charles County law enacted in 1884, was a requirement for the confinement of hogs. It’s significant to note this county law didn’t apply to all livestock – just hogs. It’s a clear indication that more than 130 years ago, Missourians were already trying to come up with solutions for the damage free-range hogs were doing to crop fields, pastures and wildlife habitats across the state.

The free-ranging of hogs in Missouri – and other livestock as well – came to an end with the passage of statewide fencing laws in 1969. Considering the lifespan of feral swine is 10-15 years and the hog elimination efforts that have taken place since then (more than 35,000 hogs have been removed in the last five years alone), it’s clear there’s little to no lineage from the feral hogs being trapped this winter to the free-range hogs that once roamed Missouri’s fields and forests before they were required to be fenced in.

“The feral hogs running free in the state today are the products of human-instigated illegal releases of feral swine into the wild,” said Jason Jensen, who represents MDC in the Partnership. “These unlawful actions were committed by people who sought the recreational value of feral hog hunting opportunities.”

Evidence of illegal movement of feral swine is multifaceted. First, anecdotally, when feral hogs are trapped, technicians often note signs on the hogs showing they’ve been in someone’s possession, such as castrated boars and adult swine with their ears cut off, or sometimes notched. In some cases, they’ve even been tagged or collared. Additionally, feral swine movement has been proven, using genetics.

With support from the USDA’s National Feral Swine Damage Management Program, Wildlife Services’ Feral Swine Genetic Archive team completed genetic analyses of more than 11,500 feral swine samples collected throughout the United States, with approximately 650 samples analyzed from Missouri, explained Dr. Tim Smyser, a research biologist working in wildlife genetics at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Co.

“Using cutting-edge genetic tools, similar to those used by popular human ancestry companies, we are able to describe unique genetic signatures for feral swine populations throughout the United States.  Further, these tools allow us to map the movement of pigs between populations and a history of that movement from previous generations,” he said. “When we evaluate our large genetic sample of feral swine for Missouri, nearly one out of every six feral swine appear to have been moved in their lifetime. Much of this movement is among populations within Missouri; however, we are also detecting the presence of pigs from out-of-state.”

Smyser added, some feral swine populations in Missouri were identified as introduction hot spots, meaning they are made up of feral swine that have been moved from populations elsewhere within the state.

“These populations show how the illegal movement of feral swine by people influences the spread of feral swine and their damage to agriculture and timber resources,” he said.

Jensen believes the terms ‘feral hogs’ and ‘hunting’ shouldn’t be linked, because hunting is an activity that involves a limited harvest so the overall population can be sustained for future recreational activity.

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