Invasive species trashing Fort Sill
February 23, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Two species of invasive species are damaging Fort Sill and surrounding areas including the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Neither being native to this area, present management issues to cull their numbers.
The first has attracted the attention of Fort Sill Natural Resources personnel. Known as feral hogs, most are a cross between domestic pigs and burly Russian boars that were brought over as a game animal on private hunting preserves.
These porcine polluters will consume just about anything making it a competitor for limited forage, especially during times of drought, such as Oklahoma just experienced. Their other characteristic that makes them especially troublesome is feral pigs have a habit of multiplying quickly.
A couple months ago, natural resources personnel working with the Fish and Wildlife Service shot four sows near Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area. Inside they found 27 piglets that would have been born sometime this winter. Hardly content to rear just one family a year, those same adult pigs can produce a second brood before the refrain of "Auld Lang Syne" is sung. If all those junior porkers were to survive, that would mean 54 additional hogs in one year just from four sows.
Further, if half of the piglets were sows, that would mean 27 pigs would be able to give birth before they were a year old. From what natural resources people have seen, those 27 young adults could each produce three or four piglets. What started as a seemingly inconsequential four pigs could rapidly become 100 additional destructive critters rooting and tearing up portions of Southwest Oklahoma.
The damage mentioned earlier isn't just to wildlife, for pigs will tend to root around turning a grassy training area into what could pass for a cultivated field with soil turned up all over. Except, this soil isn't turned up in a uniform pattern. As these nuisance animals are a problem in the majority of states, some websites state the animals can tear up the soil to a depth of three feet.
Fort Sill has maintained an active program to reduce the numbers of these beasts, and in one recent year more than 700 wild pigs were killed on post. Chris Deurmyer, a wildlife biologist here, said the drought also helped reduce pig numbers as forage and hiding places are diminished. Hunters are also encouraged to shoot pigs and special extended seasons may be authorized to further reduce their numbers.
But with few natural predators that mainly go after juvenile hogs and a diet that includes just about anything it can consume, wild pigs will continue to be a nuisance for years to come. Combined with that, these hogs appear to be intelligent and often sniff out potential traps and avoid them.
People, the second problem critter, though domesticated and often educated, wreak their own destructive habits.
Primarily this destruction happens from unrestrained littering. Frequent hiking trips into the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge suggest this is not a new phenomena as old broken glass or rusted out scraps of metal attest to the human preference to leave refuse wherever.
This course of action flies in the face of packing their trash and tossing it in convenient dumpsters sited near most trail heads.
A perplexing behavior is often revealed during hikes on hot summer mornings. People will carry a full water bottle with them, but once it is empty that thin, lightweight plastic bottle becomes too heavy to carry any further.
With areas of the refuge set aside as wilderness, the extent of human intervention is severely limited. Federal regulations even prohibited firefighting vehicles from driving into wilderness areas to battle blazes. All work done must either be done on foot or via aerial water dumps.
Despite these regulations, the preponderance of trash in this restricted area shows that people appear to have little regard for either wildlife or the wilderness experience of others.
This isn't just a land problem either as trips to area ponds or lakes reveal that fishing fanatics will often leave big wads of snarled fishing line or empty foam bait containers along the banks of favorite fishing holes.
So what is the fix action and what can be done? Plastic water bottles can be crumpled up into much smaller sizes that will take little space in a pocket or backpack. Also, keep an eye open for debris left by others and pick it up too.
Working together, pig numbers can be managed. As for people, it's all just a matter of being good stewards, just as we are called to be with Fort Sill's land and resources.