You’re welcome, neighboring states.
Feral pigs have already taken over Texas and are expanding their numbers in other states, but federal and state land managers think they have a chance to tip the balance in New Mexico. They’re willing to bet $1 million in federal funds on a yearlong pilot project aimed at eradicating the pigs and using what they learn here to keep them from gaining a foothold elsewhere.
It marks the first time the U.S. Department of Agriculture has teamed up with a state to develop a comprehensive plan for getting rid of the pigs.
A small army of state and federal employees has been trained to stalk, trap and kill New Mexico’s feral pigs. Various techniques have been used by wildlife managers and landowners for decades in the fight against feral swine, but the New Mexico team is focusing on determining what combination works best in which circumstances and how effectively helicopters can be to track the pigs across vast landscapes.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve with this so we can prevent a lot of the damage that we know will be coming if we don’t do anything about it,” said USDA Wildlife Services state director Alan May. “Sport hunting pressure alone won’t be enough to stop a population from spreading.”
In Mississippi, peanut farmers often wake to find uprooted plants. In Texas, where there are an estimated 2.6 million pigs, the animals have moved from destroying pastures and crops to tearing up suburban gardens.
Texans spend about $7 million a year on trying to control pigs and repair some of the damage, said Billy Higginbotham, a professor and wildlife specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center.
“We’re not like New Mexico, Nebraska or Kansas, for example, where we’re just beginning to get a few and can probably think in terms of eradication,” he said. “What we’re simply trying to do here is not even use the “e” word — eradication — but to think in terms of managing the damage.”
SciGuy reminds us how challenging that is.
In 2010, an estimated 750,000 pigs were harvested, or 29 percent of the population. That sounds harsh, but it’s really not.
The scientists estimate with such a harvest the feral hog population will still double every five years. Even a high harvest — 41 percent of the population, annually — will allow the wild pig population to actually grow by 12 percent a year.
An annual harvest rate of 66 percent is required to hold the feral hog population in check, the scientists believe.
That’s something like 1.8 million of the beasties a year, at current population levels. There aren’t enough helicopters in the state for that. Good luck controlling your hog invasion, New Mexico.