NORMAN — Cleveland County has a growing threat that is spreading quickly. This epidemic has not spread county-wide, but with time, will occupy much of our county. In a few years, it is likely the residential areas of Norman and Moore will be the only portions of our county not affected. This pest requires immediate attention from landowners, farmers, ranchers, hunters and county, state and federal agencies.
Feral hogs, defined as any hogs, including Russian and European wild boar, which are running at large, free-roaming or wild, are out of control across many states. These non-native invaders are costing farmers, ranchers, landowners and wildlife managers millions. Feral Hogs can be extremely dangerous and pose serious ecological, economic, aesthetic, medical and veterinary threats to our state and nation.
Feral hogs are durable, hugely successful from a reproductive standpoint, adaptable and very intelligent. While they do not see or hear as well as most wild animals, they make their living off their noses. Almost every aspect of their existence depends on their keen sense of smell. Feral hogs are omnivorous meaning they can and will eat just about anything. This list includes, but is certainly not limited to crops, pasture and rangeland plants, small mammals including deer fawns, young sheep or goats, reptiles, amphibians, bird eggs and just about anything else that stands still long enough.
Feral hogs spread disease and parasites and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of sensitive native plant and animal communities. Feral hogs cause tremendous water quality issues, and induce severe erosion in crop, pasture and forested areas. I could write a 10-page article on the devastating effects feral hogs pose to our county and state, but I think you get the point. This is a bad situation we face and it will continue to be a monumental fight from now on without implementing drastic control measures.
Some of you reading this have feral hogs and others who don’t, might be dealing with them at some point very soon. All they need is a little cover and water to thrive. They can make a living in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Cold or hot, wet or dry, high or low; just as long as they can find a permanent source of water, they are set.
So what can we do about them before they take over? We know that because of their reproductive rates and adaptability, total eradication is not feasible at this point. Some officials are looking at baits containing sodium nitrite.
Shooting and trapping have been the best ways for control up to this point. Landowners may obtain night shooting permits from their local game warden to control nuisance feral hogs. Landowners may also obtain a free control permit from their local game warden for use during deer firearm season.
There are also numerous trapping methods to consider and all have pros and cons. The best advice is that any trapped feral hog should be destroyed immediately or transported to an appropriate slaughter facility in a sealed trailer. Transporting feral hogs for any other reason is illegal.
Speaking of the law, there are several rules applying to feral hogs. First and foremost, no person, under any circumstance, may willfully release any hog to live in a feral state on public or private land in the state of Oklahoma. In fact, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) announced several rule changes affecting transport of feral hogs that will take effect November 1. When the changes take place, some may utilize a tracking method called the “Judas pig” tagging system.
A permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture must accompany the animals to the slaughter facility. Livestock markets have been removed from the list of facilities where feral swine may be sold. Live feral swine may only be sold to licensed handling facilities, licensed sporting facilities, and slaughter facilities.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF) has created an Oklahoma Feral Swine Directory to connect hog hunters/trappers with landowners who want help controlling hogs. Landowners are grouped by county in the directory, but the location of their property is not revealed.
For any program like this to be successful, all hunters and trappers must respect private property rights and trespass laws, and must abide by all state regulations. For more information about feral hog regulations, go to www.oda.state.ok.us/ais/feralswine.htm
Heath Herje is with the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension service.