Members of the Feral Hog Eradication Task Force here in Arkansas are entering their sixth year working in their various roles as part of the team that organizes the efforts to thin the population of this invasive species.
J.P. Fairhead, Feral Hog Program coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, recently provided his input on how the efforts made by that team have progressed since its inception.
Fairhead began with some background information on the team.
“The Feral Hog Eradication Task Force was initially created by the Arkansas Legislature during the 2017 general session and was directed to create a plan for the eradication of feral hogs in Arkansas,” he said.
He explained that the task force is comprised of nearly two-dozen federal and state agencies and non-government organizations.
When asked about the progress the force has made over the past few years, Fairhead stated, “The task force has been extremely helpful in organizing feral hog eradication efforts across the state.”
Fairhead also provided some facts on feral hogs, which highlighted the necessity and importance of the work the task force has been doing.
“Feral hogs or swine are the same species, Sus scrofa, as pigs that are found on farms. Feral swine are descendants of escaped or released pigs. Feral swine are called by many names including wild boar, wild hog, razorback, piney woods rooter, and Russian or Eurasian boar,” said Fairhead.
He continued, “Feral swine are not considered a wildlife resource to be protected or conserved.
“They are a nonnative competitor with other wildlife and can quickly overpopulate, increasing property damage and impacting our native wildlife.”
He added, “Feral hogs are an invasive species that are especially destructive to agricultural crops, native wildlife, and young domestic livestock.
“Feral hogs are found in 39 states and may carry at least 45 bacteria, diseases, and parasites, including Pseudorabies and Brucellosis.”
The wild swine the task force is attempting to eliminate present a potential threat to the health and safety of the public because of the diseases that they carry as well as the size and behavior of the animals when mature. These creatures can be aggressive by nature and should not be approached carelessly.
The animals wreak havoc on more than just the Arkansas ecosystem; they cause damage to parts of the state’s economy as well.
“Nationally, feral hogs are estimated to cause more than $2 billion in damages each year,” said Fairhead.
“In Arkansas, the latest survey by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that feral swine cause at least $41 million in agricultural damages every year, including $34 million in damages to soybeans, corn, cotton, wheat, hay, pecans, and rice, and $7.3 million in damages to livestock,” he continued.
There are several ways the task force has been reaching out and working with the public on the issue.
Fairhead said, “The task force has implemented ‘one-call’ messaging to direct landowners with feral hog issues to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services.”
He added, “Task force members and partners routinely conduct landowner workshops and provide targeted outreach messaging within project areas as well as statewide to promote resources available to landowners and raise awareness of feral swine related issues.”
There are still ample opportunities for members of the task force to provide help to landowners and others facing the problem of feral swine within the state.
Fairhead stated that since they began their work, task force members have assisted “more than 650 individual private and public properties across the state of Arkansas, including within the Buffalo River Watershed since 2020.”
The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), together with APHIS, put the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (FSCP) into action after it was established through the 2018 Farm Bill as a response to the dangers the swine presented to the health and safety of humans, other animals, ecosystems and agricultural economies.
Fairhead explained that in November of 2019, the USDA announced that it would be awarding $3.4 million to fund four pilot projects in Arkansas. Funding for the pilot projects was set for three years, which began on April 27, 2020, and will end on Sept. 30, 2023.
Some of the locations in the nation that were identified as facing the highest threat from the feral swine population are here in Arkansas, so it was naturally part of the Round 1 effort to begin the removal process of the wild beasts.
Fairhead detailed some of the ways the USDA funding will help them assist the public in ridding their land of these nuisance animals.
He stated, “The pilot program grant funds are being used for 10 conservation district technicians and the purchase of needed equipment within the 12 counties. The district technicians are assisting USDA APHIS Wildlife Services personnel with feral swine removal efforts (trapping and monitoring) to private landowners.”
Fairhead continued, “USDA APHIS Wildlife Services has also hired an additional technician within each project area. Educational and outreach components of the project include landowner workshops, field days, demonstrations, damage assessments, and surveys conducted by partnering agencies and conservation districts.”
The pilot projects focus on the areas of feral swine removal by APHIS, NRCS supported restoration, and providing assistance to producers for feral swine control in the form of grants from non-federal program partners, according to the USDA’s website, found at agriculture.arkansas.gov.
It also states that the ability to measure the success of the projects and the program is contingent on monitoring and evaluating the data involved.
Data collected on crops, livestock, property, crop conversion due to damage, surface damages to land, and stored commodities, as well as accounts from landowners about their personal efforts to minimize damage caused by feral swine will help to provide those entities involved with a more complete understanding of the extent of damages caused by the species.
Fairhead recommended that landowners experiencing feral hog issues contact USDA Wildlife Services for assistance at (501) 835-2318.
Fairhead explained, “Wildlife Services has staff located throughout the state to assist with the control of feral hogs. Generally, trapping using entire sounder (group of hogs) methods, is considered the most effective method to remove hogs and reduce damages.”
Fairhead then provided some statistics and overview of the program.
He stated that there are 10 district technicians spread out across four project areas in the state of Arkansas.
These four areas are North Central (Baxter, Izard, and Marion), West Arkansas River Valley (Logan, Sebastian, and Yell), Southeast (Arkansas, Ashley, and Drew), and the Southwest (Hempstead, Howard, and Sevier).
Fairhead said that there were so far a total of 483 properties served in Arkansas, covering roughly 500,000 acres of land.
The total feral swine removed from Arkansas for the year 2022 across all project areas was 13,628, with 4,509 of the animals removed using conservation district resources.
Fairhead said that there are 22-24 traps currently in use by conservation district personnel. The totals for each of the four project areas include 4,387 removed from the southwest region; 4,751 removed from the southeast part of the state; 2,105 removed from the north central area; and 2,385 removed from the west Arkansas river valley.
The maps provided on the USDA website show there were 592 feral hogs eradicated from Ashley County in 2022 by the task force but none reported as removed by landowners themselves.
Fairhead said that the efforts are progressing well since the initiation of the project with landowner participation and engagement levels of partners consistent with removals of feral swine in the project areas.
He added, “Future efforts to continue the USDA NRCS project through conservation districts and USDA APHIS Wildlife Services are being discussed among partners for consideration of funding during the next farm bill cycle. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture and many of its partners are supportive of continued feral swine control efforts.
Fairhead said, “The task force appreciates all data entry on behalf of private individuals related to feral swine removals as they can assist partners in determining levels of landowner engagement and areas where additional resources may be needed.”
To report a feral hog problem call (501) 835-2318 or report sightings and kills online at the web address listed below.
Fairhead concluded by saying, “Additional feral hog information and resources provided by members of the Arkansas Feral Hog Eradication Task Force can be found at agriculture.arkansas.gov/arkansas-department-of-agriculture-services/feral-hog/.”