DNR to offer tools to fight nuisances

The nuisance numbers of feral hogs and coyotes are growing, and state wildlife officers are responding by going to the well: landowners.

A voluntary training program is scheduled to kick off in January giving property owners “better tools and better information” to improve trapping and taking techniques, said Alvin Taylor, S.C. Department of Natural Resources director. Details are still being worked out and will be made available on the department website, www.dnr.sc.gov.

By targeting the people managing the largest tracts where most of the animals are found, wildlife officers think they can get the best bang for the buck keeping the numbers under control, particularly of the prolific-breeding hogs.

“The bottom line is DNR does not have enough staff or resources to eliminate hogs,” said Sam Chappellear, DNR resources regional wildlife coordinator. Managing them “is going to take a lot of effort. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the landowner.”

Bo Petersen

The feral hog isn’t about to go away. The population will continue to grow — whether or not they are hunted and trapped. Problems like the recent homeowners’ damage in West Ashley can be expected to get worse.

Land managers and others worry about eventually having to deal with a Texas-size problem. The 2 million-or-more hog population in that state is considered to be 10 times larger than it was 30 years ago, according to the Houston Chronicle, even though the state virtually declared war on them 20 years ago with some of the most aggressive “taking” policies in the nation, and hundreds of thousands of the animals are killed each year.

“We’re looking at all the avenues we can,” said Steve Lightfoot, of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. But, “as one wildlife biologist put it, a feral hog is the only animal that will have a litter of 12 and 13 will survive.”

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has lifted nearly all restraints on shooting or trapping the animals, but they are so prolific that no one really expects to stop the population from growing, much less to reduce its numbers.

Feral hogs that recently have been rooting up lawns in Village Green off Ashley River Road are the latest among any number of incidents where the tusked foragers have caused problems in suburbs that back up to wetland woods.

There’s no firm estimate of the population in the state, but the hogs have been reported mostly along river basins in all 46 counties in the state.

In 2012, 26,674 feral pigs were reported killed by deer hunters alone — 3,115 in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. It hasn’t made much of a difference. A single female can produce as many as 30 piglets per year.

“I think we do have a real concern” about the population exploding, said Alvin Taylor, DNR director.

The pigs overrun vegetation and plantings, and run out other game in places where their numbers get too big.

South Carolina laws allow them to be shot freely, or shot with a permit at night where local laws don’t disallow it.

“I think we are one of the least-restricted states for taking these hogs right now,” Taylor said.

Texas has a program allowing the hogs to be captured and sold to processor “buying pens,” making the meat a marketable wild game like bison. Charles Howard, a DNR advisory board member, has pushed the “buying pens” idea to help get the number of hogs here under control, and the DNR board has looked at it, Taylor said.

But the Texas program has had to be very tightly regulated to control disease spreading to domestic pig farms and to keep people from bringing pigs from other states for the profit.

For all of the cost involved, it hasn’t made a dent in the numbers, Taylor said.

The hog problem in South Carolina, in fact, evidently has been spurred by people illegally moving hogs from one place to another in order to hunt them. They have been found in coastal swamps since the first free-ranging pigs got away from colonial farmers.

But that population mostly stayed to the more remote river basins and didn’t get out of hand, said Sam Chappellear, DNR regional wildlife coordinator. In recent years, hogs began turning up in midstate counties where they had not been seen before in modern times.

“Those hogs didn’t make it from the mountains to the coast by walking. They came by trailer or truck,” Chappellear said. “Now you’ve opened up a can of worms and you can’t put the top back on it.”

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