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Ind. Officials Working To Eliminate Feral Hog Population

Wild pigs have been a problem in the United States for more than half a century. They live in deep brush and they're largely nocturnal, so people don't often spot them.

"You always have that boogeyman feeling that something in the dark in the woods is sneaking up on me," says hunter Chuck Brenner. "You stumble up on an adult male ... with an adult female that's in heat. He will defend his rights to her against you, me, a truck, a 4-wheeler, a tractor, a horse, another hog. It doesn't matter."

Brenner has killed more than a hundred wild hogs. A lot of times he collected hair or blood from the pigs and sent the samples to the Division of Fish and Wildlife so biologists could study the DNA and determine where the hogs came from.

DNA Evidence Shows People Moved Wild Hogs To Indiana

Humans moved the pigs to Indiana so they could hunt them. That's not only illegal but it can be devastating to a place like Indiana where livestock and farming are so important.

"We have a problem here," says DNR Wildlife Research Biologist Steve Backs. "They are causing damage to agricultural crops as well as ecological damage."

The pigs tear through corn fields and cause more than a billion dollars in national crop damage each year. They're also polluting streams and creeks and compete with native species for food.

"In order to start to bring the population back down...we have to remove on an annual basis close to 70 percent of the population."

Perhaps the biggest concern is the potential for disease. That could threaten Indiana's billion dollar pork industry and affect other livestock as well.

"We were probably somewhat naïve from the standpoint that we thought we will just let people shoot them 365 days a year there's no license required and we figured a couple deer seasons we'll get rid of them ... but it didn't work," says Backs.

Backs estimates several hundred or maybe even thousands of wild pigs now live in Indiana. Wild pigs have no natural predators that keep the population in check. A sow can have two litters of about ten pigs a year. And by the time she's having the second litter, females in her first litter can be pregnant.

"So you almost get the rabbit effect or the domino effect," Backs says. "In order to start to bring the population back down theoretically we have to remove on an annual basis close to 70 percent of the population due to their high reproductive rates."

Hunters are typically only interested in going after the big boars, but it's the sows that are the reproductive engines.

Indiana Gets Help From The Farm Bill

Congress took notice in 2014. There'd been money in the farm bill to fight wild hogs in the Southeast and the Southwest, but now that the country's breadbasket was threatened, money was shifted to the Midwest for the first time.

The first major change: no more public hunting of pigs.

"The reason is if we do that, we might as well put up a sign that says dump your pigs here," Backs says.

The preferred method is trapping.

Big circular corral traps can capture an entire group of pigs and that's important because pigs are considered to be very intelligent animals.

"If someone just goes out there and wants to shoot pigs or hunts them they may only take a couple," says Lee Humberg, USDA State Director. "The problem with that is you then bust up that group. And they then they've been educated: 'I've been shot at on this property let's get out of here, we're not coming back.'"

Today's traps have come a long way since old box contraptions. The traps are elevated off the ground because pigs are more likely to go in after the bait it if they can see through the trap. Cameras watch the traps and the pigs' movement, and Humberg's team can use phones to remotely trigger the traps.

"We're selective about when we drop the traps," Humberg says. "We're trying to get all we know based on the camera evidence who are using the trap so if there are eight coming we try not to drop the trap until all eight are in that trap."

"I guess it doesn't really matter what the numbers are, we want the numbers to be zero."

And it's working. Humberg's team removed 129 hogs last year, more than double what they removed the previous year.

The farm bill money gets shifted around so states that are getting closer to eliminating pigs might get a little more to cap off the population. This year, Indiana is getting enough money to double the size of its hog fighting team.

Focusing on eliminating pigs that are in the so-called periphery zones or that are newly established populations, is working. Four states Idaho, Maryland, New York, Washington were deemed pig free last year and are just being monitored. This year officials are projecting New Jersey and Wisconsin will be added to that list.

Indiana's goal of eradication is different than some other states that have much larger populations. For example, in Texas and Florida where wild pigs number in the millions, the goal right now is just to reduce the damage they're causing.

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