Whether hunted by Jeep or helicopter, with AR-15s or spears, feral hogs are no new game to American sportsmen. However, after decades of spread throughout the U.S. this invasive species continues to menace private landowners and public agencies. Research in the state of Michigan is quantifying just how destructive feral hogs can be to habitat, wildlife, agriculture, and even human health.
Feral hogs, swine or Russian boar, are a prolific invasive species, reaching reproductive maturity at a young age. Hogs farrow multiple times a year in large litters and have a high natural survival with little impact of predation. They can also endure extremely high levels of harvest, and although this bacon may be fun to hunt, the damage these tasty pigs cause is serious business.
The Michigan DNR has now determined that free-ranging feral hogs occur in 76 of 83 counties, in a state that’s a long way from Texas, one of the most severely impacted states, and other southern hot beds. The new invasives are a threat to Michigan’s billion-dollar wildlife and $300 million domestic swine industries.
Feral hogs also negatively impact forest regeneration, compete with native species, can prey on some, such as ground nesting birds, and cause serious erosion problems. The total cost and scale of ecological and economic damage across the U.S. is unknown, but it must be astronomical.
A top priority for research is disease monitoring and control. Feral hogs are known reservoirs and potential amplifiers of viral and bacterial disease. At least 37 of these parasites can affect humans, livestock, and wildlife. The presence of this disease vector is a risk to Michigan’s disease-free status domestic livestock herds and further complicates the issue of eradicating bovine tuberculosis in deer.
This project is a partnership between the Michigan DNR, SCI-Michigan Involvement Committee, US Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services, Michigan State University, University of Michigan-Flint, and the Michigan Pork Producers. Together, the work will quantify feral swine space and resource use, disease status, and potential for transmission, and develop and evaluate effective lethal removal techniques and strategies with the ultimate goal of eradicating the species.
The SCI Michigan and NOVI Chapters have supported this research, doubled by SCI Foundation’s matching grant program. You can learn more about SCI Foundation’s 2016 matching grant projects here on the First for Wildlife blog.