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Alabama growers battling feral hog problems

They're especially destructive and even ravenous pests, and a growing number of landowners are finally taking notice of them as such — pests that must be stopped in their tracks.

But these pests are neither the winged nor six-legged kind. They’re wild hogs, which, because of their keen intelligence, voracious appetites and unusually high fertility rates are considered especially threatening pests.

Experts such as Mark Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife specialist and Auburn University assistant professor of wildlife sciences, have known that for a long time. And they’re working to ensure that more landowners, especially in southern Alabama — ground zero for these wild hogs — know that too.

The goal is to get information out there to landowners about how to minimize the effect of these hogs on property, Smith says.

Their impact can be severe, he says. These unrelenting tillers wreak all sorts of havoc on property, and virtually nothing is safe — not row crops, not forests, not even the wildlife that must compete with wild hogs for scarce acorns and other foods.

And like most other pests, they're not going away. Much like fire ants, Formosan termites and a host of other introduced species, their numbers only can be reduced not eliminated entirely.

Intensive trapping and removal have proven to be the most effective methods for reducing their numbers — a fact Smith and other Extension wildlife educators are trying to drive home to landowners in a series of workshops that will be held this year.

And the message seems to be coming through loudly and clearly.

A recent workshop offered in Atmore attracted 45 concerned landowners, agricultural producers and natural resource professionals from Alabama and the neighboring states of Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. Smith, along with his counterparts at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources-Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, envisions similar types of workshops in other parts of southern Alabama where the problem is especially severe.

In environmental terms, wild hogs have turned out to be something of a wakeup call for Alabama landowners, many of whose parents and grandparents typically raised hogs by allowing them to run free.

Back then, the intention wasn't for hunting, Smith says. They were let go to forage mainly on acorns and to reproduce until their owners were ready to round them up for slaughter.

But a few hogs evaded capture, which resulted in the formation of small pockets of feral hog populations throughout the state.

More recently, hogs have been prized for their sporting qualities — so much so that a few enthusiastic hunters have been furtively releasing hogs in wooded areas throughout the country, even though this practice is now illegal in most states.

The result is often more hogs in more parts of the country — not to mention, bigger head aches for Smith and other wildlife experts concerned with containing their spread.

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