A draft proposal revealed Monday would allow rangers at Congaree National Park to take more drastic steps — including hunting with high-powered rifles — to tackle what they say is a worsening wild hog problem in the wilderness outside Columbia.
The National Park Service is currently seeking public comment on a new management plan for the non-native wild pigs, which park officials say are destroying native plants and longleaf pine habitats. The lack of predators and quick reproduction rate have allowed the hog population to skyrocket.
“The damage that’s being done to the natural resources, not to even mention the archaeological resources that are being turned up by the pigs rooting around, is a real problem,” the park’s Acting Chief of Integrated Resource Management Steven Kidd told South Carolina Radio Network. “The park has an obligation to protect these resources.”
In the past, the park has relied on a limited effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to trap and shoot hogs in select areas. The new proposal will now allow park rangers to actively shoot the animals and place traps in more inaccessible regions of the park’s roughly 26,500 acres.
While the public is still banned from hunting inside the park, rangers and Wildlife Services agents would be allowed to use high-powered rifles to kill the non-native animals. Such shooting could be done from blinds and tree stands, but only if the structures are temporary. Most of the hunting would be away from visitor use areas and would take place either early in the morning, late in the evening, or at night. Similar plans are in effect at other Southeastern national parks (such as Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee).
“To really get a handle on the population out here, we’re going to have to do more than (the current hog management plan),” Kidd said. “It’s going to have to be a sustained, prolonged operation using every tool in the toolkit.”
He said previous studies have found that the hog population needs to be reduced by about 70 percent each year for several years to reverse the trend. While it’s not known how many pigs live inside the park’s boundaries, park officials noted that 440 hogs were shot on neighboring private property from May-September 2012 alone.
The proposed plan would also create several loopholes in park regulations to make it easier for rangers to hunt the pigs. For instance, motor vehicles are currently not allowed to operate in the roughly 80 percent of park land designated as “wilderness.” But an exemption can be made for small, all-terrain vehicles to protect the park’s natural resources. Kidd said that hog control would fall under such an exemption.
He said the plan would cost about $225,000 in its first year, if initiated, to pay for extra staff and equipment. The cost is expected to decrease in the following years.