By Jay Mann, Public Affairs SpecialistJune 3, 2016
(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the feral hog population explosion on post.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 3, 2016) -- Feral hogs have been a growing problem at Fort Rucker since the unauthorized release of domesticated pigs by hunters on and near Fort Rucker 20 years ago.
But new steps are being taken to keep the population under control with new technology and support, according to Doug Watkins, Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch chief.
"The feral hog population's growth over the last few decades is a major concern," he said. "It has exceeded the carrying capacity of desirable wildlife, pushing the deer population further away as we try to grow them back."
"Over 2,000 hogs have been removed through organized control efforts over the last five years, but that's just a drop in the bucket," said Daniel Spillers, Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Officials add to that drop in the bucket by basically proclaiming it open season on feral hogs on the post, Watkins said.
"We encourage the hunting of feral hogs in designated areas on Fort Rucker," he said. "Hunting season has even been expanded to hunt them year round on the installation. We also have a trapping program that we administer through the Natural Resources Branch. People can come in and sign up with us to be a volunteer trapper."
And besides helping the post reduce the population of hogs, hunting and trapping also puts food on the table for those who make the effort, Spillers said. "They are safe to clean and eat, but you should always wear gloves when handling these animals."
The Feral Hog Volunteer Trapping Program supplies the trap and corn for volunteers looking to trap hogs on Fort Rucker explained Watkins. The natural resources branch supplies one 50-pound bag of corn per trap per week. Volunteers need to check their trap for hogs on a daily basis, depending on whether the trigger is set. Then hunters need to notify wildlife personnel of the numbers of hogs caught on a weekly or monthly basis.
"Volunteer trappers need to obtain an Alabama State Hunting License and a Fort Rucker Hunting Permit in order to trap here," said Watkins.
"The biggest problem we are facing is that the groups of hogs move over a large area of land in their search for food, and we are restricted from trapping the hogs on some training areas and ranges, which provide the animals sanctuary," he added.
"We recently acquired smart traps that we hope to deploy in these restricted areas," added Watkins. "These traps have a camera on the trap you can view and you can drop the door to the trap with a text message."
He said DPW is working to get into the training areas. "There is about 1,300 acres of land up near Highway 27 we hope to be able to trap soon. You can remove 100 hogs from that area and in a few days --100 more have moved in to replace those.
"I think that the feral hog problem will have severe consequences to the environment on the installation if stringent measures are not put in place to control the population," said Watkins. "We are already seeing areas that have exceeded carrying capacity for wildlife and have damages to the habitat."
The control efforts are being funded by U.S. Army Installation Management Command -- to buy traps and feed, said Watkins. "Feral hogs are an invasive species, and we have around 100 traps deployed right now in locations around post."
"You can take some out by hunting," added Spillers. "But traps are a better way. One person can impact the problem more with trapping."
"Estimates say that you need to take 80 percent of the population each year just to keep up with the population growth," he said. "That is a tremendous amount when you are talking thousands of hogs. There is no type of poison that is legal for them here. They have developed one in Australia, but it has not been approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) yet."
People interested in becoming a volunteer trapper can call the natural resources branch at 255-9368.