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Missouri's Outdoors is Threatened

There is no doubt hunters have led, encouraged, funded and supported the restoration of many species of wildlife in Missouri and elsewhere. As a hunter, I take pride in this point. Consequently, it is with alarm and concern that I report that some members of the hunting community have engaged in surreptitious efforts to establish feral hog populations in Missouri’s fields and forests. This is unfortunate because the free-ranging version of the domestic hog is a harmful species that does not belong in the wilds of our state. Feral hogs pose threats to agriculture by crop depredation, and their transmission of diseases jeopardizes the livestock industry. Hogs’ feeding habits and their destructive rooting behavior threaten native plants and animals, including a wide range of game and special-status species.

Feral hogs occur throughout much of the southern United States, where landowners and habitat managers wish they could wake up from a bad dream and have hogs disappear from the outdoors. This hasn’t happened, despite tremendous efforts at eradication.

Recently, states outside the established range of feral hogs, including Missouri, have experienced a surge in covert hog introductions. Quite curiously, these“pop-up” populations don’t show the characteristics of normal range expansion in which adjacent unoccupied areas are populated by animals from a nearby source. Instead, they show up in widely scattered locations, often hundreds of miles from other hog populations. There is little doubt the introduced animals made these jumps as livestock trailer cargo released under the cover of darkness—actions which are highly illegal in Missouri. Also of interest, the introductions occur most often on Missouri’s public lands, suggesting that those who release them hope to pursue them for sport purposes.

The Department of Conservation and other public land agencies now spend considerable staff energy and funds to control hog populations—resources better devoted to more desirable programs. Hogs are difficult to control. They respond to traps and disturbance in ways that make successive attempts even more difficult. Shooting and hunting seem to have limited long-term impact, with the animals adjusting their behavior to private lands, darkness, or both. And, feral hog reproductive potential is significant.

There are things Missourians can do to assist feral hog control. First, don’t participate in hog hunting enterprises that serve only to fuel the demand for feral hog hunting. If you wish to hunt hogs, go south where your efforts will assist in controlling established populations. However, do recognize that under most circumstances Missouri regulations permit the taking of feral hogs while hunting other species. If you have the opportunity, shoot as many feral hogs on public lands as possible. The only exception to this would be if you encounter hogs in the vicinity of a baited hog trap. Disturbing hogs near trap sites will cause the animals to avoid the area and prevent the possible trapping of many animals. Finally, if you have information about illegal hog releases, contact your conservation agent or Operation Game Thief (1-800-392-1111). You may remain anonymous, and you may ask to be considered for a reward.

I will admit my reluctance to suggest that a part of the hunting community is responsible for introducing feral hogs; however, the evidence to date seems clear—hogs are being released with the hope that widespread feral populations will result. Missouri is keenly attentive to a law recently adopted in Kansas, which has experienced similar covert releases. The Kansas legislature took the step of banning hog hunting while making it possible for landowners to continue to destroy feral hogs that occur on their properties. Their hope, of course, is to remove the incentive that seems to be motivating the illegal releases.

Dave Erickson, wildlife division chief

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