Can feral hogs be eradicated in Oklahoma? Josh Gaskamp, a wildlife and range consultant for the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, is working to find out.
Feral hogs cause an estimated $800 million to $1.5 billion in agricultural and environmental damage in the United States each year, Gaskamp said.
With numbers estimated between 617,000 and 1.4 million, Oklahoma is ranked in the top four states with the highest population of feral hogs. The invasive species is found in all 77 Oklahoma counties.
Complete eradication is the primary goal, but Gaskamp said it is unrealistic with Oklahoma’s out-of-control population.
“Control is all we can do,” he said. “In order to call our control techniques effective, we need to eliminate 70 percent of the identifiable population on an annual basis.”
Controlling such a large portion of the population is not easy. Gaskamp said it would take 100 percent collaboration between all landowners to successfully control the hogs. “It really takes cooperation or associations of landowners working together to put a dent in these hog populations,” Gaskamp said. “If one landowner is doing lots of control and other landowners are doing nothing in the same area, you’re likely to see ingress of those populations back into the previously controlled area.”
Gaskamp said using an assortment of control techniques is more effective than using only one. Landowners must be educated on the best method for eliminating feral hogs on their personal property. Techniques such as drop nets or traps have been the most potent, he said. “What we really need is landowners to do research to see which technique is best for their situation,” he said.
Encouraging landowners to participate in control methods will be more useful than forcing them, Gaskamp said. The hogs are a global problem, so research on control and eradication is being conducted all around the world.
Several varieties of feral hogs populate the Oklahoma landscape. Some hogs were transported from Europe and Asia for commercial hunting operations. Others were once domesticated, but escaped. Oklahoma also has a hybrid of those two. The Eurasian wild hog typically only had one litter of three piglets per year but when combined with the U.S. domesticated hog, the wild hogs now produce many piglets per litter that grow rapidly.
“Feral hogs are an ecological train wreck,” Gaskamp said. “We created a super hog here in the United States that is now roaming the landscapes and causing damage.”
The feral hog population has increased for a variety of reasons. Gaskamp lists sport hunting of the hogs as a major contributor to the problem.
“One significant reason hog populations have grown so much is the glorification of hog hunting,” Gaskamp said. “They’re a huge source of recreational opportunity for landowners.”
Hogs are captured and released, whether legally or illegally, in new areas to allow them to be hunted. Because they can live in nearly any habitat, the hogs have no problem surviving and reproducing.
“They’re opportunistic omnivores,” Gaskamp said. “They eat everything with a calorie. As long as they’ve got water nearby, they’re going to survive.”
Crop damage from the hogs is not the only thing that concerns Gaskamp. The Noble Foundation captures feral hogs and tests them for diseases. As carriers of many diseases, feral hogs pose a health risk to humans and have tested positive for psuedorabies, brucellosis, tularemia, leptospirosis and more, Gaskamp said.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the state’s leading general agriculture organization, has policy stating, “We recommend the dumping of wild hogs for sportsmen for later hunting be punishable by stiff fines. The State of Oklahoma and the federal government should make a concentrated effort to eradicate wild hogs.
“The Legislature needs to be more diligent in addressing the problem of feral hog eradication by increasing funding to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
“We encourage the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to pursue the processing of feral hogs for use by state correctional facilities and any excess to be made available to any available markets, including food banks.”