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The many troubles of wild pigs

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Agriculture producers are well aware of the economic impacts they suffer at the snout and mouth of the wild pig. Hunters are harvesting pigs in the fall along with deer and other game species. Wild pigs are abundant, troublesome, and widespread in Georgia.

Wild Pigs–also called feral swine, wild boar, feral pigs and other names—were introduced to the southern United States in the early 1500s by Spanish explorers as a source of food for their exploration and their armies. The wild pig population has now spread to about 38 states and the population may exceed 7 million animals. Pigs are habitat generalists and omnivores. They can live almost anywhere and eat almost anything.  Their diet generally consists of about 85% vegetation (including many agricultural crops). They often use streams, wetlands, bayous, river bottoms, and other wet areas as a refuge and hiding or bedding cover.  

Surveys in 2012 (Southwest Georgia) and 2015 (statewide) suggest that wild pigs are responsible for over $51 million and $151 million in annual damage, respectively. Our surveys suggest that less than 15% of respondents welcome wild pigs and most believe they should be eliminated wherever and whenever possible. In response to nationwide calls for relief from the onslaught of wild pigs, Congress authorized $75 million in the 2018 Farm Bill to a program aimed at control of wild pigs in 10 states across 20 project areas. In Georgia, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources with partners (Flint River Conservation District, Jones Center at Ichauway, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, USDA NRCS, and GA DNR_WRD) are working in the Leary, Georgia, area on one of the Farm Bill projects. A companion study is underway at the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida.  Four graduate students (two at Leary and two at Tall Timbers) are working on several questions related to wild pig ecology and environmental impact.

The students are studying the economic impact of pigs on agriculture, and ecological impacts on native wildlife (primarily white-tailed deer and turkey), habitat and water quality. In addition, we are deploying GPS satellite collars to track wild pigs and learn about their movements and habitat use. We have deployed about 150 game cameras at each location and in the past 8-10 months have collected over 300,000 photos at each location. Many photos are without animals but we have photographed several thousand wild pigs and other wildlife.  

We are using drones to survey wild pig damage in agriculture fields. Our partner, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, is trapping and lethally removing wild pigs on about 30,000 acres in the Leary area and 42,000 acres in the Tall timbers area. In addition, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services is using a helicopter at certain times to locate and shoot wild pigs.

These projects began in 2020 and will continue to 2024. Results will quantify economic damage, inform us about wild pig ecology and movements, evaluate control methods and quantify wild pig impacts to native wildlife, vegetation, water quality and the environment. Collectively, this information will inform legislatures and other decision-makers of the severe hardship wild pigs inflict on farmers, hunters, landowners and the environment so additional control efforts may continue and we improve our ability to manage and control wild pig populations in Georgia.

For additional information on this project email Dr. Mike Mengak at the UGA Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources or visit the Georgia Wild Pig website. Photos in this article were provided by Justine Smith, a master of science student at Warnell.

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