December 19, 2014

“No.1 wildlife problem facing state:” Clemson tries to determine cost of wild hog damage

Image courtesy: Clemson University

Image courtesy: Clemson University

Wildlife experts say the growing population of wild hogs is causing severe damage to South Carolina farmers.

Now, a team at Clemson University is trying to put a dollar figure on that damage and is working to figure out how the non-native animals can best be reduced through traps.

Clemson wildlife ecologist Dr. Kate McFadden said there’s no real idea of total damage caused by the animals.

“It’s difficult to get a lot of support for this kind of work (eliminating hogs) if we can’t say, ‘Listen, this is what it’s costing South Carolinians,'” she told South Carolina Radio Network.

The team will use a $75,000 grant provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine that cost. McFadden said the goal of the study is to first determine the “hotspots” for herds of feral hogs. Next, researchers will use different types of camera traps to find which methods work most effectively and efficiently for capturing the animals. Researchers will then try to quantify the economic and environmental damage caused by the animals.

“Feral hogs are the No. 1 wildlife problem facing the state of South Carolina,” Marion Barnes, senior Extension agent for Colleton and Hampton counties, said in a statement.

Agriculture officials said the rapidly growing hog population threatens crops, plants, and forest ecosystems.

The hog population growth has been remarkable, according to state officials. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources only counted the animals in 26 counties during the 1980s, but the agency says hogs can now be found in all 46 counties. The harvest of wild pigs in 2009 was estimated at 36,888, and the estimated population in 2010 is 150,000. Wild hogs are not protected in South Carolina and state lawmakers recently loosened hunting regulations to declare “open season” on the perceived pests.

McFadden said the reason behind the population grown is the hogs’ early age of sexual maturity, ability to breed multiple times per year with large litter sizes, and extended natural lifespan. This means that more must be done to control their numbers, she said.

“The scary thing about them is that the more intensely we hunt them or trap them, the females that aren’t trapped just up their reproduction in response,” McFadden said.

Landowners now can report wild hog sightings through Clemson Extension’s South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force website.