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W.Va. DNR determined to stay ahead of feral swine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's wildlife and agricultural officials are trying to stop a 200-pound problem before it turns into a 500-pound problem.

The problem is feral hogs - domestic swine that escape captivity and live wild in the woods. Chris Ryan, game management services supervisor for the state Division of Natural Resources, said they've showed up in "one or two places," and wildlife officials don't want them to spread.

"The place we're concentrating on now is outside a captive deer location where they also brought in hogs for people to hunt," Ryan added. "Some of the hogs escaped and started causing problems."

DNR officials have signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services arm to eradicate the troublesome pigs.

"We gave them some money to help the effort," Ryan said.

The problem, though confined to isolated pockets right now, is significant enough to have drawn attention from several state and federal agencies. Ryan said a late-spring meeting brought together representatives from the DNR's wildlife section, the state Department of Agriculture, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the West Virginia University Agricultural Extension Service and the DNR's Natural Resources Police.

"All the major players were there," Ryan said. "We looked at several different angles - ways to eradicate feral pigs, ways to educate the public about the problems those pigs can cause, and even some possible legislation."

The bottom line, Ryan added, is that "feral pigs are bad. They're bad for agriculture and for natural resources. They'll eat anything. They root up farmers' crops like living rototillers.

"In oak forests, they greatly alter habitat by destroying vegetation. They consume [acorns] that would otherwise be available for deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels and other native wildlife. There's also evidence that feral hogs are significant predators on the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, as well as frogs and salamanders."

More important, feral pigs can carry diseases that can be transmitted to livestock and to humans.

"Each feral hog is a walking biological package," Ryan explained. "They've been known to carry quite a variety of diseases and parasites."

The USDA's APHIS website contains quite a list: pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, classical swine fever, African swine fever, bovine tuberculosis, influenza, blue-ear pig disease, anthrax, tularemia, West Nile virus, salmonella, trichinosis, streptococcus, E. coli, ticks, fleas, lice and internal parasites such as lungworm.

DNR officials worry that the popularity of hog-hunting shows on cable television might encourage people to purchase and release pigs with the idea of hunting them.

"We don't want the spread promoted at all," Ryan said. "It will take collaboration by various agencies and groups to make sure the economics and environment of the state don't end up affected by these animals."

DNR officials stocked Eurasian wild boar into the Spruce Laurel watershed in 1971, but Ryan said people shouldn't confuse the two.

"They're completely different animals," he explained. "Wild boars aren't a 'pioneering species.' Their reproductive potential is fairly low. Feral pigs, on the other hand, tend to move into an area and take it over. They have very high reproductive population, and their numbers tend to increase quickly."

Feral swine cause major problems in several southeastern states, and Ryan doesn't want West Virginia to join the list. "We want to get on top of this before it gets out of hand," he said.


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