Off the charts: Feral hog population explosion creates problems

By Jay Mann, Fort Rucker Public AffairsMay 31, 2016

Off the charts: Feral hog population explosion creates problems
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the feral hog population explosion on post.)

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 31, 2016) -- Fort Rucker has a numbers problem: 1+1=12, 6+6=72, 36+36=232. But it's not a problem mathematicians can help with -- unless they know how to deal with feral hogs.

"Their reproduction rate is just off the charts," said Doug Watkins, Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch chief. "A female can have her first litter at 7-months old and she can have around 12 to a litter. Fifty percent of those would normally be female and these hogs can have up to three litters a year.

Feral hogs, at one point, were domesticated pigs that have been in the wild for a period of time, said Watkins. "After three generations, they normally change their color, their snout becomes more elongated and they look different than a pig that you might see at the farmers market."

These pigs were released onto Fort Rucker back in the early 1990s by people who used to run deer with their dogs, he said. These unauthorized releases were because some people were disgruntled with a drop in the deer population and they intended to hunt the pigs with their dogs.

"Over 20 years, it has evolved into a massive problem," he explained. "We are seeing all different types of hog-related issues now. It has crossed over from being a hunting and natural resources issue to being an environmental problem.

"We are looking at water quality; damage to infrastructure, like training lands and airfields; damage to landfills and housing areas; and damage to playgrounds and recreation land -- basically everything we have got," he said. "We are doing the solar initiative right now on the installation and they called us this morning asking us to come over there and remove the pigs."

"They are all over the installation," Watkins said, "We have a significant problem."

Feral hogs have been identified as an invasive species requiring management under Executive Order 13112, and DODI 4715.03, Natural Resources Conservation Program (2011), directs installations to address invasive species management.

"They do a lot of rooting," said Danny Spillers, Fish and Wildlife biologist, "They root with their nose and they dig with their feet in search of food. There is a lot of soil disturbance leading to erosion and other water runoff problems. In addition to that, they produce a lot of waste products that get washed into the soil and streams, producing problems."

One of the main concerns is not the damage, but the threats the animals pose -- including the diseases the hogs might carry, said Watkins.

"There are a lot of diseases that hogs are vectors for or carry," Spillers explained. "They can infect other animals or even humans."

Disease threats to humans include brucellosis, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, sarcoptic mange, E. coli, pseudorabies and trichinosis, said Spillers.

"Safety threats include attack of Soldiers involved in dispersed ground training, threat of attack to occupants of cantonment area, threat to recreational users of the installation, and (Soldiers training in the field)," he said."We have seen damage everywhere we go far out on Fort Rucker, but now we are starting to see it in high-use areas, like housing.

"We have had people on the jogging trails or walking around Beaver Lake with their strollers call us up after seeing families of these large hogs," said Watkins. "These are wild animals and people should not approach them."

He added that a large number are being hit by vehicles around the installation. "These animals will cross in groups of 15 to 20 at a time and range in size from 100 to 300 pounds each."

And then, of course, there is the damage.

"We see significant damage on the airfields," said Watkins. "They root in the grass, creating big holes causing erosion, and they are basically all over large parts of the airfields."

There are also landfills that are capped as part of environmental regulations and the hogs dig into the soil caps trying to get at what is underneath, exposing it and causing it to leach out, said Spillers. "We have had to clean up and fix that a few times."

The hog population explosion also affects other animals, he said. "Other wildlife and game animals on the installation are being driven away to search for food. This will become a problem for deer hunters in the future."

The natural resources branch is working to stop the growth of the feral hog population, with the hopes of reducing it in the future, said Watkins. "But you are never going to eradicate feral hogs completely on an installation of this size."

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