Feral swine are a well-known environmental issue in the southern and western states and while wild boars are known to roam Pennsylvania, officials say the size of that population and the impact of the animals is difficult to determine.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture pamphlet on the country’s wild boar population estimates it to be more than 5 million in at least 35 states, with the largest populations in California, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.
Pennsylvania’s population, however, is not as easy to gauge.
“At this current time, it’s unknown,” said Harris Glass, the department’s state director. “Early on, probably two years ago, with the amount of phone calls and reports we were getting, it seemed to be very credible that there were quite a few.”
Those reports since have tapered off. Glass said reports may have diminished due to the feral swine population giving hunters something new to hunt.
Calls concerning damage from feral swine have been limited. Glass said that damages might be “misidentified” and blamed on a different animal. Ironically, he said that some initial reports were more like calls for “hunting advice.”
He also said reports of sightings have resulted in people trespassing onto properties where the sightings originated in an attempt to hunt the animals. The result, he said, was more damage from the trespassers than from the feral swine.
But he said the threats from the feral swine population are very real. “This is not something to have on the landscape,” Glass said, and said feral swine are “detrimental to wildlife, natural vegetation and ... a nuisance and economic problem to landowners.”
Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser equates the threat in Pennsylvania from wild boar “to the boa constrictors and other snakes that have been released in the Everglades.”
“It’s a species that, left unchecked, has the ability to alter landscape and ecosystem,” he said.
The commission, which was given jurisdiction over the state’s feral swine population following a court ruling several years ago, has formed a solid stance on the issue. “We’re committed to eradication,” Feaser said. “They pose a significant risk for wildlife, both from a potential for disease spread to not only our wildlife population, but also to
the pork industry.”
A commission fact sheet says diseases feral swine can carry have been nearly eliminated from commercial-production herds and that wild boar pose a serious risk of reinfection.
The agriculture department lists a number of diseases that feral swine carry, including pseudorabies, brucellosis, swine influenza and trichinellosis. Glass said feral swine are capable of spreading these diseases to domesticated pigs and livestock “almost like a common cold.”
Glass said the presence of feral swine creates a competition with other animals for habitat, which he called “a big concern.” Unfortunately, the state’s wilderness caters to feral swine. “Pennsylvania is great habitat for feral hogs,” Glass said.
Feral swine feed on the state’s crops and natural nuts, on which other wildlife also thrive. Glass also classified state forests as food sources for feral swine when grain crops are not being grown. Once the weather breaks and spring arrives, they will naturally move back to agriculture sources.
Glass said the state has an abundance of natural water sources, making the entire state suitable for their population. A game commission fact sheet says damage caused by feral swine has been reported in the southwest, south-central and northeastern part of the state.
Wild boar are naturally destructive to their habitat. “If they’re on a hillside rooting ... they actually uproot the soil, and when we have a rain, water goes down the hill and takes all the soil and sediment down, and exposes bare rock,” Glass said. “That’s what destroys habitat.”
What can be done?
Glass said the state is in a unique situation to potentially eliminate the population before it grows any larger. “Neighboring states would say ‘nip it in the bud while you’ve got the chance,’” Glass said. “Our population of wild hogs ... is very low, which is very unique in the other states.”
Feaser agreed and said that while the population may not be sizable and is isolated in certain areas, it is growing.
There are farms in Pennsylvania that raise wild hogs and then have hunters come to pay to hunt them. It is through these facilities and typical pig farms, Glass said, that the potential for wild and domestic hogs entering the wild exists. Whether it’s a domesticated pig or a feral one, he said that it is only a matter of time once they escape.
“If it won’t hold water, it won’t hold a hog,” he said. “When they escape, they change very quickly in a matter of weeks. They will revert back into a feral-type state.”
The relatively high animal intelligence of swine also makes them a particularly daunting challenge. Feral swine can become nocturnal if they begin to feel the pressure from hunters.
The game commission says trapping is an effective method of removing feral swine from the land. Hunters and trappers are able to hunt or trap feral swine in any county where protection has been removed. Feaser said there currently is no protection for feral swine anywhere in the state.
Feaser said reports of feral swine being killed should be reported to the game commission region office and reports should be made within 24 hours of the kill.
The commission advises the use of disposable rubber of latex gloves when field dressing or butchering, and warned hunters to avoid direct contact with the animal’s blood or reproductive organs. Hunters also are discouraged from butchering feral swine on farms and to keep pets away from the animal’s carcass to avoid potential infection.
The commission advises people to use hot water and soap to wash hands, as well as washing tools with soap and hot water after dressing and butchering. Tools then should be soaked in a solution of bleach water for a half-hour. Hunters are also encouraged to properly dispose of the soiled gloves, and bury or burn any of the animal’s remains.
Both Feaser and Glass advise people to report any sightings of feral swine to the commission or to the agriculture department.