Demand is up for state agents in Oklahoma who are at-the-ready to set traps, swoop in by helicopter firing loads of .30-caliber shotgun pellets and ready to pick off the enemy at night using rifles fitted with thermal-imaging scopes and silencers.
The “enemy” are feral swine and the Wildlife Services Division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry reported last week it killed 44 percent more in 2016 over the previous year, or about 11,206 of the animals.
It’s a good-news, bad-news scenario, as the increased demand shows that more people are aware of the public services available to fight expanding feral swine problems, but it also probably means the pigs continue to be a growing problem as well, said Scott Alls, assistant state director of Wildlife Services.
“Word has gotten out that we have these services, one farmer talks to another,” he said. “But it’s probably a situation where we have both more awareness and more pigs causing problems.”
Alls pointed out that on Thursday agents were shooting hogs by helicopter at the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve near Pawhuska. “Ten years ago there were none in that part of the country,” he said.
Between state and federal funds the Division has about $500,000 to deal with nuisance animals each year, he said. The majority goes to feral swine control. Some is used for coyotes and beavers.
The Division uses three methods to kill pigs: flying by helicopter with a trained pilot and shooter with a shotgun firing .30-caliber buckshot, trapping using 30-foot-wide pens with an 8-foot-wide doors, and night shooting using hunting rifles outfitted with thermal-imaging scopes and suppressors.
Alls said each of the three methods accounted for about a third of the 2016 kill. “I know you would think the helicopter or trapping would account for more, but the numbers are almost equal,” he said. “The night shooting is probably indicative of just how many numbers we have in some places.”
Pilot-gunner crews undergo extensive training before attempting to chase pigs at levels 30 to 50 feet above the ground, he said.
Feral swine are an invasive species that inhabit all 77 Oklahoma counties and has a growing population, as evidenced by expanding reports, Alls said.
No official population estimate is available but swine are prolific as they are able to reproduce before they are 1 year old and might have two litters a year with up to 10 or 12 piglets in each litter.
Alls acknowledged that, compared to the statewide population, the 11,000 killed by state agents are probably “a drop in the bucket.”
Australia and New Zealand have had some luck mostly eliminating feral swine using poisons but the difficulty in the United States is finding a poison that won’t affect non-targeted species, Alls said.
“Over there, it didn’t matter because there was nothing around that would eat the pellets that wasn’t already a non-native species,” he said.
Feral swine likely will continue to be a problem for agriculture, homeowners and Oklahoma wildlife, he said.
“They do an incredible amount of damage to crops and even to personal property, yards and golf courses, and they damage wildlife habitat for native species as well,” he said. Around the state, hogs have torn up fairway and greens at several golf courses, which are expensive to groom and repair, he said.
The swine also are linked to health risks to livestock, including the potential transmission of pseudorabies and swine brucellosis.
The number of feral swine killed is likely to increase again next year as the Division just obtained a second helicopter, and both the hog population and awareness of the eradication program continue to grow, Alls said.
People who are having problems with feral swine are encouraged to contact Alls at 405-521-4039.