Louisiana’s feral hogs won the survivability lottery

Despite what you may have heard, feral hogs don’t give birth to three litters a year and no one female can have 300 piglets within a two-year period, says Kim Marie Tolson, associate professor of biology at University of Louisiana at Monroe.

That said, the question of what to do about the increasing number of feral hogs in the state still is a problem that needs to be addressed, said biologists at the 2014 Fall Symposium on Recent Natural Resource Research in Louisiana.

“It’s not reproduction that makes wild pigs so successful. It’s just one factor,” Tolson said Friday — their ability to survive and thrive almost anywhere.

Feral hogs pretty much have won the lottery on survivability. They can live in multiple types of habitat from upland forest to the marshes of coastal Louisiana, they have no natural predators in Louisiana and they will eat just about anything.

“If it has one calorie in it, a pig will eat it,” Tolson said. And, she said, it’s true the feral hog has the potential to reproduce much quicker than other large mammals in the state by having five to six offspring about every eight to nine months. A ready supply of food, sometimes left by hunters in deer feeders, means more success in breeding and reproduction.

“Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy,” Tolson said, showing a picture of a large group of feral pigs gathered around a pile of corn that had been left out.

With a population of about half a million feral hogs in the state right now, and hunters reporting killing only 161,000 last year, the population is expected to keep exploding. These feral hogs can cause widespread damage to crops in the upland areas and to coastal marshes farther south.

Although biologists at the meeting Friday focused on how best to curtail the feral hog population in the state, not everyone wants to see that happen.

“Landowners look at pigs a little differently,” said Chad Corville, land manager for Miami Corp., which is a large landowner in south Louisiana. Some landowners want the feral hogs removed, but have concerns about liability issues if someone gets hurt on their property and about making sure removal efforts don’t conflict with other money-making ventures on the property.

Other landowners want the hogs to remain because it offers a way to go hunting or to lease their land for hunting hogs.

Then there’s the effort from a number of people who will trap hogs in one area and then transport them to another place where they go hunting, said Jim LaCour, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries veterinarian.

It is perfectly legal to transport feral hogs, although it is illegal to release them into the wild. LaCour said it’s a “five-minute crime” as people just open the trailer door and then it’s done.

In this way, people are basically seeding different parts of the state with feral hog populations for hunting purposes.

Hunting alone isn’t putting a dent into the feral hog population, and hasn’t done so in Texas or neighboring states. Instead, speakers at the meeting said, there needs to be a multilayered approach. These methods could include programs being worked on at the LSU Agricultural Center to create a nitrite feed that would kill the animals.

That research is still ongoing and there’s certainly nothing ready for release at this time, said Glen Gentry, assistant professor with the LSU Agricultural center.

Another method being tested is the effectiveness of shooting feral hogs by helicopter in the coastal wetlands as opposed to trying to chase the hogs by airboat.

An ongoing research project at Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area at the mouth of the Mississippi River is comparing marsh damage over time with concentrated aerial hog shooting in one area compared to no helicopter hunting in another.

Damaged areas and acreage were measured in 2013 and then they did 19 hours of flight time during which 145 hogs were killed in the treatment area.

The researchers came back in 2014 and found that in the area where the hogs had been killed there were fewer areas and acres of damage than in the control site.

Hunting alone will not provide those results. There are 180 days of feral hog harvest on the wildlife management area with an average take of about one hog a day, LaCour said.

“We shot 145 in two days,” he said.

But again, speakers said this is just one management approach that won’t solve the problem and won’t work as effectively in all areas.

Instead, universities and state and federal agencies need to work together to organize some pilot projects in case funding becomes available, said John Pitre, wildlife biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We need a long-term plan,” he said. “And show that all the partners are coming together to do this. There is absolutely a need for collaboration.”

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.