By DOUG GRAVES
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — Feral swine is often associated with Southern states, but they’re showing up in parts of Ohio where they don’t belong.
For years, such feral pigs were contained mostly in southeastern Ohio. But now they have been found as far north as Ashtabula County near Lake Erie, and as far west as Butler County along the Indiana border. “For decades they were only in a handful of states,” said Dave Pauli, senior director of wildlife innovation and response at the U.S. Humane Society. “People are definitely moving them around. I’m convinced that residents are illegally transporting the invasive species from Southern states.”
No sightings have been confirmed in central Ohio yet, but one wildlife expert called their invasion inevitable. “Reality-television show such as A&E’s ‘Lady Hoggers’ and ‘American Hoggers’ have inspired people to import the pigs, which have huge populations in states including Florida, Georgia and Texas,” Pauli said.
“There are a lot of guys who think, ‘Gee, it’s be nice if I had hogs here.’ But moving these animals from place to place is a problem across the country. Pretty much, if they’re anywhere outside of Texas, Georgia or Florida, they’ve been moved.”
Craig Hicks, a wildlife disease biologist with the USDA, hunts down feral swine in Ohio. He said feral pigs can ruin crops and soil, out-compete native wildlife and carry disease. The USDA estimates feral swine cost taxpayers more than $1 billion each year in damage and control efforts.
“The job is a serious one,” Hick said. “We are at an infestation tipping point in Ohio and winning the battle of the boars will take a coordinated effort involving farmers, hunters and government. But stopping the spread of feral swine in the state means hunters are going to have to get just as mean, determined and intelligent as the hogs themselves. And that, you will see, may take some time.”
Feral swine is an ancestor of the domestic farm pig. They’re often called wild hogs, razorbacks, piney woods rooters or simply boars. According to Hicks, the hogs have been spotted a few hours east of Cincinnati and are spreading closer to Hamilton County.
Reports indicate they’ve been in Clermont County and a large herd was spotted last month in Boone County in Kentucky. It is estimated 200 of the beasts have invaded the 240,000-acre Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio, rooting up hillsides and fragile plants, eating farm crops and generally menacing life and property.
Experts also point out feral hogs can contaminate water quality and spread 30 viral and bacterial diseases and 37 different parasites.
“Twenty years ago few of us would have suspected we would ever see coyotes in Cincinnati parks or learn of suburban neighborhoods employing bow hunters to cull deer from wooded backyards,” Hicks said.
“Boars are nothing you want living near you. At the age of four or five, they typically weigh a few hundred pounds and sport bony, garish amounts of shaggy hair. In Ohio, adults can range from 100 to 300 pounds with males growing four 3-inch long tusks.”
According to the USDA, the established populations of wild hogs exist in 36 states, noting the illegal transfer of such wild animals as wild pigs, skunks, possums and raccoons is punishable by fine, restitution and imprisonment. David Kohler, executive administrator for wildlife management and research at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, know people are relocating the feral hogs.
“This is not a situation in which they’ve migrated naturally,” he said. “The highway system is how those animals were moved, and that’s pretty obvious.”
Other counties in Ohio have been invaded by these wild pigs, including Adams, Vinton, Scioto, Jackson, Pike and Gallia.