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Unwelcome Invaders: Wild Pigs Pose a Serious New Threat to Idaho

Exotic species threatens agriculture, the environment and wildlife


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An illegal release is suspected in the case of the Southern Idaho wild pigs, but officials don't have evidence to confirm the belief.

What they can confirm is the presence of wild pigs in the area near the C.J. Strike Reservoir. Rumors began in 2007, when bird and coyote hunters began talking about occasional sightings of pigs in the desert. Those rumors were confirmed in 2009 when London and other Idaho Fish and Game officers met hunters who had killed a wild pig. The reports were further confirmed when officials with the USDA's Wildlife Services division captured photographs of the pigs on trap cameras set up in the area of suspected pig activity.

Area landowners were some of the first to notice the presence of the wild pigs in the area, including the Colyer family, who runs a Hereford and Angus cattle ranch.

Sherry Colyer said they first spotted the pigs and the damage they had done to the fields several years ago. The sightings raised immediate red flags for the family.

"We were extremely concerned," Colyer said. "They populate like rabbits, they will ... go through a crop of corn really quick and do a lot of damage in the fields."

Colyer said that after the sightings and hearing of damage to neighboring corn fields, her father-in-law began to trap the pigs on his own, eventually capturing roughly six to eight animals.

Even then, they knew there were more out there and began working with Idaho Fish and Game to monitor the situation and try to trap more pigs.

"It's distressing to think that if you don't keep them out ... that you're going to end up with a big mess," she said.

Since then, an interagency group has been working not only with each other but also with private land owners to get rid of the wild pigs before they can overwhelm efforts.

Because of Idaho law, wild pigs fall under the oversight of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, since they are considered livestock. Like in many states though, oversight and responsibility aren't clear-cut because so many agencies are concerned with the issue. While Idaho law expressly bans the import and release of wild pigs, the department isn't suited to deal with the problem on its own. The department is working closely with USDA Wildlife Services, as well as Idaho Fish and Game to come up with an approach to the issue.

Regardless of the agency, no one wants to see the pigs become a permanent presence in Idaho.

"It's just a disaster," Stopak said. "It's not like it's one problem they create. They're very destructive animals."

"We certainly don't want them to take off," said Steve Nadeau, regional wildlife manager for the Southwest Region of Idaho Fish and Game. "It's opening up a whole Pandora's box with a whole suite of issues down the road."

Officials are now dealing with those issues in Oregon, where wildlife officials estimate there are now between 1,000 and 5,000 wild pigs on a patchwork of public and private land in north central Oregon.

For years, there were anecdotal reports of wild pigs in the area, but recently the issue has hit the front lines as both private landowners and public managers are seeing greater damage on the landscape.

Oregon's population is believed to have stemmed from two sources: private landowners introducing the species for their own hunting and an exotic hunting business from which some wild boars may have escaped, according to Keith Kohl, terrestrial invasive species coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For the last several years, the department, along with USDA Wildlife Services and the help of some of the private landowners, has been trapping pigs, but the extent of the population is still widely unknown since much of the activity is on private land and not all landowners have been willing to take part in the effort.

Still, the issue is of such concern that last year the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2221, which outlawed the selling or advertising of hunts for wild pigs. The bill also requires that any private landowner who finds wild pigs on his or her property report them within 10 days and work with agency officials on a removal plan. The law also transferred authority over wild pigs from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to Fish and Wildlife.

Even with the law in place, cooperation has been spotty at best.

"So far we've had three plans," Kohl said. "A lot has to do with landowners and government regulations. They're wary of raising their hands."

Oregon is facing the challenge of not only discovering the size of the population and figuring out how to reduce it but also finding funding. Kohl said his agency is working on getting funding from non-governmental agencies to match state funds.

Oregon is also exploring ways to learn more about the wild pigs that are already out there. Kohl said officials there are experimenting with a technique known as the Judas pig in which a wild pig is trapped and fitted with a radio telemetry collar before being released. The hope is that not only will the tagged pig lead them to larger groups, making trapping more effective, but the information will tell researchers more about the pigs' home range, how far they travel in a day and how long they're spending in one area.

"We're trying to do things to make it easier for the landowner, to make it easier to get rid of [the pigs]," he said.

Kohl said the resistant landowners largely don't think the pigs are a big deal, and many like the idea of being able to hunt them. But many change their opinions when they are shown the extent of the damage the pigs are capable of.

"When they see the damage, they understand the problem," Kohl said.

"It's amazing the amount of damage a group of pigs can do. It's just like a rototiller going through," he said, describing how one rancher's meadow grazing area was destroyed by wild pigs.

"[You have to show landowners] what it can do in their pocketbook," Kohl said.

But he admits that the key to accomplishing any reduction is to work with the private landowners.

"Without access, we can't do anything," Kohl said. "Like with a lot of things ... you have to show by example--show that we're out there trying to help them solve the problem, not force anything on them.