Feral hogs devastate nearly everything in their path. They eat just about anything they can catch and destroy the environment. To make it worse, they spread disease to domestic pigs, other wildlife and even humans. Once feral pigs start reproducing, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. It’s no wonder Colorado is making headlines across the country. It’s the first state to announce it has successfully eradicated its feral hog population.
“As far as I know, Colorado is the only state that has announced that it has eradicated all feral pigs,” says Travis Black, deputy regional manager for the Southeast Region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
More famously known in the state as the “feral pig expert,” Black says this day has been a long time coming.
When did feral pigs become a problem in Colorado?
In 2001, Black was serving as a field officer and noted about 250 feral swine at Big Sandy Creek on the eastern edge of the state. Colorado also had one other primary population of 100 feral pigs in the extreme southeast corner of the state, near the Cimeron River.
Over the next few years, field officers began noting isolated pockets of feral swine.
“There’s no doubt those pigs were illegally brought into that state,” Black says. “Some were in captivity in a farm or field. The farmers didn’t know any better, they bought them somewhere else and brought them on to their property.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that CPW partnered with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, USDA Wildlife Services and the U.S. Forest Service to begin addressing feral pig problems in the state. They developed a memo of understanding (MOU) specifying how the organizations would work cooperatively to get a handle on the situation. Soon after, a task force was created to start making recommendations.
In 2005, a commercial hog production facility, located about seven miles from one of the known populations of feral pigs, tested positive for PRRS. CPW knew it was time to step in.
“We knew we needed to address the issues,” Black says. “Feral pigs are a known vector for the spread of PRRS. I can’t say for a fact, but having those feral pigs within seven miles, it’s likely they were a vector for that disease.”
Feral pigs eat just about anything they can catch and destroy the environment.
Open season on feral hogs
In the beginning, CPW employed hunters and private landowners by encouraging them to shoot any feral pigs they saw. Black says they intentionally had a lack of regulations – it was always open season to shoot feral pigs.
“There was no limit, no license requirements, people could hunt day and night with any legal method – archery, muzzleloaders, rifles, etc.,” Black says. “We threw the door open and asked everyone to help us address the problem by killing wild pigs.”
After developing the MOU in 2005, they began live trapping and euthanizing animals caught in corral-like traps and USDA Wildlife Services performed aerial gunning on known populations of pigs with landowner permission. They also initiated a campaign years later disseminating signs to encourage the public to call in feral hog sightings.
Of course, a lot of the work involved continual ground patrol for feral pigs, he says.
“I started educating all Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers about feral pigs – signs to look for, how to distinguish feral or wild hogs from domestic pigs, and developed a reporting system to start gathering data on locations of pigs, types of pigs, numbers of pigs, and more to create a database for the future with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and USDA Wildlife Services.”
In addition, USDA began a monitoring program using environmental DNA (eDNA) water samples, looking for eDNA that could indicate the presence of feral pigs. They complemented this project using a system of trail cameras to obtain photographic evidence of feral pigs. Then, they would follow up with an eradication effort, Black says.
Travis Black shows off the skulls of some of the invasive species he helped eradicate from Colorado in a 15-year partnership.
What makes eradication so difficult?
Nearly 15 years later, after the efforts to address the feral pig problem in Colorado began, the state has successfully eradicated its feral hog populations. But it hasn’t been easy, Black says.
“Feral swine can adapt to most habitats. They have a relatively high reproductive rate, breed at a young age, and have fairly large litter sizes. A population of pigs can easily double in one year due to pigs’ reproductive capacity,” Black says. “They also have the ability to disperse on a fairly rapid scale due to natural immigration and migration.”
But one of the biggest reasons why it’s so tough to wipe out feral pigs? Illegal introductions into the state.
“People really enjoy hunting feral pigs – that leads to some illegal introductions of pigs into our state and makes it difficult,” Black says.
From a hunting standpoint, Texas is a big state for hunting feral pigs, he says. However, if you begin to see feral pigs show up in your state, address the hunting problem up front. For example, Kansas prohibited hunting feral pigs because hunters can inadvertently cause populations of wild pigs to spread.
“I’ll be the first to admit, hunting feral pigs is a kick in the pants,” says Black, a Texas native. “It’s sometimes thrilling, but what can result from feral pig hunting is not a problem you want to have.”
Commercial hunting creates an incentive to bring in hogs and he encourages other states to limit incentives that may exacerbate the problem.
Stop the problem early
In southern states, eradicating large populations of feral swine is almost impossible. Because of this, Black can’t stress enough how important it is to address feral hog problems as soon as possible. In states where this is a new or emerging problem, start educating the public, landowners and state officials on the potential impact feral swine can have on livestock, farmers, wildlife and the environment.
“If laws need to be changed, change them,” Black says. “The longer you wait, the higher the chances are that the population will increase and spread. Form partnerships with interested agencies and take a cooperative approach to address the problem. There’s generally a lot of common ground in dealing with invasive species and their impacts.”
If you see feral swine or transportation activities of the animals, contact the USDA Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS.
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