Eating a good way to curb invasive species

Hogs have eaten their way through forests and farmland, damaging crops and chasing away desired game. The state hopes its program will help Louisianans eat into the rate of its rapidly growing population.

The problem with feral hogs in Louisiana is neither new nor unique to many regions of the United States. Louisiana Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain says the wild hogs cause about $50 million of damage in the state every year. Eat-outs of crops have been reported for decades. The invasive species also love to dig up seedlings to feast on the tap root.

“We’re killing more than 350,000 each year and the population is still exploding,” Strain said.

So what can folks do? Eat them.

Hog History

Hogs were first brought to North America in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto. The free-range practice of swine herds and escapes from domestic enclosures loosed the mammals to the wild, according to LSU AgCenter information. In the early 20th century, the more aggressive Eurasian wild boars were brought to the United States for hunters. Despite “game-proof” caging, many escaped and their bloodlines were mixed in the wild.

Documents from the LSU AgCenter state the feral hog as “the most prolific large mammal in North America.” Sexual maturity is reached by the time the pigs are six months old. They can have five to six piglets in each litter, sometimes up to 12, and have up to three litters a year. The population in an area can double in months.

Woody Reed owns several acres of farm and forest land just south of Bunkie. He said he remembers years ago when hunters brought hogs to his area of Louisiana.

“They said they wanted to hunt them,” Reed said.

That was about 20 years ago, he said. Because of the aggressive nature of the hogs, groups — called sounds — have taken over many areas of the state, driving out other game like deer that compete for the same food sources.

Reed enjoys hunting deer on his property but has seen fewer of them in recent years. At the same time, the signs of feral hogs were all over: planted fields had wallows; young plants were eaten or destroyed.

A Better Way? Enter Gene Cavalier, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry who has taken on a role of trapping teacher for landowners and farmers. Strain has tasked Cavalier with finding a way to catch the feral swine, especially the ones that are skittish toward traps.

Cavalier, who worked for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for 17 years before joining LDAF, said feral hogs are smart. If they have any experience of almost being caught in a trap, or any of their sound being caught, they learn what to avoid. That knowledge is passed on to the next generations.

The BoarBuster trap, sold by a company of the same name out of Oklahoma, is used by Cavalier. He began trapping at state parks and campgrounds where the hogs were problematic. Recently, however, he has been invited by landowners seeking answers to a feral hog problem.