Wild pigs are responsible for billions of dollars in American agricultural damages. They can bring deadly diseases to domestic stock and humans. With two litters a year their populations can grow exponentially.
But they aren’t doing so well in Kansas, the state with the best success at controlling populations of the 40-plus states or provinces with feral swine.
To date at least 12 Kansas populations have been eradicated. Some numbered over a thousand. The only established population within the state is confined to the Bourbon and Linn county areas. Every year herds are eradicated as they come into Kansas from Oklahoma.
The killing is mostly done by the USDA biologists. They give a ton of credit to their biggest allies — Kansas landowners.
“Our whole success is due to the facts that Kansas farmer and ranchers immediately recognize how damaging these pigs are and how effective we can be on their properties,” says Curran Salter, a USDA feral swine biologist based in Kansas.
Salter estimates 99% of Kansas landowners contacted have allowed trapping and aerial gunning. That number is almost certainly the highest compliance rate in the nation. Mike Wilson, a Bourbon County farmer, gladly gave access.
“This program has done us a tremendous amount of good. Our pigs aren’t eradicated but it’s not nearly as bad as they used to be,” Wilson says. “What they’re doing works.”
Man spreads the problem
America has had wild pigs since domestic animals escaped from Spanish explorers in the 1500s. More did the same from early American farms.
The problem has grown worse more recently when people bought captured wild swine in the south and released them in their home state to create huntable populations. Such releases are credited with Kansas’ first populations in the Gypsum Hills west of Medicine Lodge and at Fort Riley over 20 years ago. Other suspected releases, like in Bourbon County, followed.
The negative impact was almost immediate.
“They’d go down a row of corn I’d planted and take every seed right out of the ground,” Wilson says. “I saw what looked like a great 40-acre field of good corn from the outside, have 10 acres inside totally destroyed. Crop insurance doesn’t cover it.”
A unique Kansas plan
In 2006, USDA and the Kansas Department of Agriculture joined forces, and funding, to get serious about stopping the spread of feral swine in Kansas.
The Kansas program quickly outlawed sport hunting to take away the incentive for hunters to import more. Hunting also scatters the pigs, which makes it tougher for biologists to eradicate herds. Landowners can still kill pigs on their property.
Trapping has become the most efficient method according to Salter, who says 609 pigs were killed in Kansas in 2018. He says 300 were killed in Bourbon and Linn counties. The rest were killed along the Oklahoma border in southeast and south-central Kansas. Since 2006, the program has killed around 11,000 feral pigs in Kansas.
Building a better pig trap
Salter says it once took weeks before feral pigs would enter a trap made of wire livestock panels. Now, new BoarBuster traps wait suspended about 4 feet off the ground and seemingly go unnoticed by animals. Remote cameras show the biologists when pigs are under the round traps. With the push of a button, Salter has trapped entire herds of 20 or more while sitting at his home over 150 miles away in Hoisington.
Aerial gunning, with special USDA shooters and helicopter pilots, is also very productive in late winter when feral hogs are concentrated around corn piles and easily seen from the air.
Salter says the fight against Kansas’ feral swine will probably never end, but he thinks efforts along Kanas borders can keep new areas from becoming invested. Eradication of populations in Bourbon and Linn counties will probably never happen since some landowners don’t allow trapping or aerial gunning because they enjoy hunting the pigs.
“We’ve never been able to get everywhere we’ve needed to go,” Salter says. “But things are getting better. Some new landowners are beginning to let us on because they’re tired of the pigs and they’ve seen the damage they can do. Things are beginning to shift in the right direction.”
Anyone with questions about feral swine eradication in Kansas, or to report the location of such animals, can email Curran Salter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pearce writes from Lawrence.