David Rainer with the Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources ( DCNR) reports that despite serious efforts, the feral hog population in Alabama shows no indication of decline. In fact, Matt Brock, Technical Assistance Wildlife Biologist, with our Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division ( WFF), fears hog numbers are continuing to increase. Brock is basing that on reports he's getting from people and hogs being spotted in areas that haven't had hogs before. Also, during the 2019-2020 hunting season, hunters bagged more hogs than deer! The WFF hunter survey reveals that an estimated 218,000 deer were harvested, while the number of feral hogs taken was an estimated 255,000 animals during the same period! That's reason for concern because the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture says that the animals cause more than $1.5 billion in damages to property, crops, wildlife, and ecosystems.
But, there's reason for hope. As part of of the Farm Bill passed by Congress, a comprehensive program is underway in Alabama to try to stop the spread of feral hogs, particularly in areas of heavy agriculture. The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service ( NRCS) is conducting pilot projects in Alabama's Black Belt, the Wiregrass, and on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The Black Belt Project focuses on four watersheds covering almost 85,000 acres in Sumter Co. The Wiregrass Project consists of 17 watersheds in Geneva, Houston, and Henry counties, while the Gulf Coast Project covers eight watersheds, or nearly 182,000 acres in Escambia and Baldwin counties. Hog traps using the latest technology are employed, and they can be triggered remotely. "They are trapping on the properties of private landowners with a long history of hog problems around agricultural areas," Brock says.
"They are offering this service to these private landowners in the designated watersheds and have hired several technicians to operate the traps." The most important thing about these projects is that it will educate landowners and arm them with the knowledge to continue trapping efforts themselves. And that's ultra important, given the hog's ability to rapidly reproduce. Many sows reach sexual maturity at six months of age. In theory, the sows can have three litters every 14 months, which may amount to four or eight piglets per litter, though larger litters have been reported, and the piglets have a high survival rate. Thankfully, sows usually have only one or two litters a year, according to Brock.
Hogs were introduced into the Mobile area by the Spanish in the 1500s, and there they were inclined to stay. Stay, that is, "until we had gasoline-powered vehicles," Brock says! He's talking about how humans have transported the animals to other areas of the state, a practice now outlawed in Alabama. "Now, once a hog becomes a person's possession by either capturing or hunting, it cannot be released alive. It must be killed on-site," Brock says. Alabama now has several remote-activated traps that have been deployed on Wildlife Management Areas and Special Opportunity Areas. It is clear by now that trapping is the only way to go for effective hog removal, but proper equipment for this activity is not cheap. We'll touch on that next time.