Montana has launched a “Squeal on Pigs” campaign aimed at preventing feral hogs from encroaching on the state. To understand the extent to which hogs can ravage a landscape, just look to southern states that have gone to extraordinary lengths to slow the species’ spread.
So far, those efforts have fallen short.
In a recent podcast episode of “Reply All,” reporters unpacked the crisis of our country’s wild hog infestation, which is far worse than much of urban America understands.
Journalist Asher Elbein explained how the pigs arrived in the South in the first place (European settlers in the 1500s), why they thrive (they can basically live on anything) and why they are so hard to kill (they’re extremely smart).
“For example, when it comes to trying to trap feral hogs, there’s only so many methods you can use,” Elbein said, “because they tend to just figure out that something’s afoot, and then you can’t use that method again.”
Now the boars are on our doorstep to the north, in Canada. Imported again from Europe, this time in the 1980s and 1990s for livestock or “penned game” for hunters, they are now considered that country’s most prolific invasive mammal, according to a report by the University of Saskatchewan.
Feral pigs are causing an “ecological disaster” as they proliferate across the prairies. They have no natural predators, become sexually mature within months and have roughly six piglets in a litter.
Boars were spotted just five miles from Montana’s border in 2018. At a summit hosted earlier this month by the Montana Invasive Species Council, wildlife officials said they plan another aerial survey this winter.
The Daily Inter Lake reported in September that groups of feral hogs were spotted “very close” to the border, and one recent sighting was just above Lincoln County in Canada.
Once established, the species has proven nearly impossible to eradicate. In areas of the South, pig activity has only increased in recent years. They are destroying crops and native plants, spreading disease and moving into more residential areas. In Texas, where roughly half the hogs in America live, the state has legalized hunting the animals from the sky.
Last year, helicopter hunting killed about 43,000 feral pigs, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. But that’s just 1-2% of the population in the state, barely putting a dent in the growing number of invasive species that annually cause at least $1.5 billion in damages.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller had a plan to kill feral hogs and usher in what he called a “Hog Apocalypse.” He wanted to poison them. That proposal, however, was put on hold over concerns about how it would impact other animals and threats of litigation.
At the recent Montana summit, John Steuber, who leads the state’s branch of the federal predator control program, struck an optimistic tone, according to the Billings Gazette.
“Montana is well-situated to deal with this issue,” he said, citing recent success in other states.
State law still prohibits hunting feral swine, but it also requires reporting any sightings of them. If we want to maintain the pristine ecosystem of Northwest Montana, we all should be eager to “squeal.”