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Jun 14, 2013 1:48 AM by Associated Press

SD officials work to keep wild hogs out of state

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota wildlife officials want to send wild pigs crying all the way home.

The state does not currently have an established population of feral pigs, but that appears to be changing.

Just a handful of years ago, feral pigs were an easily ignored problem to the south. They weren't seen in South Dakota, and they weren't expected to be.

There has since been one feral pig sighting in the state, at least two unconfirmed sightings and a handful of false alarms.

"It does appear they are adapting and moving north," Chuck Schlueter, spokesman for the state Game, Fish and Parks' Division of Wildlife, told The Daily Republic. "We are likely to see a few show up."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, feral pigs are found in at least 35 states - mostly in the South - and have a population of more than 5 million, although the USDA says that due to the constant growth of the population, predicting the population and range is difficult. Annually, they cause $1.5 billion in damages. Their rooting, consumption and trampling of crops causes an estimated $800 million in agricultural damage annually.

South Dakota's confirmed sighting was in Britton, in the state's northeast corner. The pig was shot and killed by two residents after it ran out of a field. Game, Fish and Parks Game Manager Jacqui Ermer said DNA testing was not done on the pig, but visual clues indicated it was a wild hog.

Marshall County Conservation Officer Casey Dowler responded to the call for the hog the night of Oct. 30. The pig weighed close to 300 pounds and had tusks.

"I thought, that's a strange call to get," Dowler said. "It's very odd to have a hog in this area."

There was no indication the pig had caused any destruction, and no tracks were found. An investigation into the pig failed to conclude how long the animal had been in the remote area.

"We see a lot of strange animals," Dowler said. "I've seen porcupines, we had a moose come down, but that pig was by far the strangest animal I've ever seen in Marshall County."

In late 2009, a feral pig was mistakenly reported in several news outlets to have been killed in Madison.

Moody County Conservation Officer Chad Williams was shown a picture of the pig early on the day it was shot. He said that from the picture, it looked like a feral pig, but it was discovered later that day after a resident killed it that it was a domestic pot-bellied pig. The pig had been raised as a pet and escaped.

Not only was the pig a false alarm, but Williams said there are no feral pigs in Moody County, and he never expects to see one.

"It's very rare to see one in South Dakota, at least at this point," said Schlueter.

Two more false alarms were in Brown and Brookings counties, where the calls about feral pigs ended up being loose domestic pigs.

Last November in Gregory County, a conservation officer was called to Scalp Creek for a sighting of a group of feral pigs. There was evidence that a pig had rooted around in the area, but no pig was found.

A similar experience occurred in January in Hand County. Conservation Officer Cory Flor spent a day searching for a possible feral pig eight miles east of Miller, but was unable to find many tracks due to snow, even though he arrived on the scene around 30 minutes after receiving the call. The pig was reported to be dark gray and between 250 and 300 pounds.

Wild pigs were rumored, but never confirmed, to be along Big Stone Lake in Ortonville, Minn., in 2005. The town is less than a mile away from the South Dakota state line.

South Dakota's climate has been viewed as a tool for keeping feral swine out, but with several confirmed sightings in Nebraska, it appears they may be moving north. The confirmed and unconfirmed sightings in South Dakota have so far been mostly on the eastern side of the state, but Schlueter said that could be because a larger population of people is more likely to spot a pig.

Feral pigs can plow through neighborhoods and fields alike, rooting around in the ground and eating anything they can get their snouts into. They spread disease and weigh in at around 200 pounds, but it's not unusual for them to surpass that weight. Their tusks grow continuously and often are 4 inches long. The invasive species is considered a threat to native species, and their habit of rooting around the banks of streams and rivers can cause a danger to aquatic habitats.

Their growth in numbers is due to multiple factors. They're highly adaptable, and their home ranges can stretch across several thousand acres. Female feral pigs can begin repopulating when they are 3 months old and can reproduce twice a year, although they will usually only have a litter a year. The average litters contain three to eight piglets, with low infant mortality.

The USDA has predicted that even if 90 to 100 percent of female pigs were eliminated annually, the breeding in juveniles alone would prevent a decrease in their population.

Feral swine are not protected by any federal laws or regulations. The USDA Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service labels feral swine as an invasive species. In 2012, 28,498 feral pigs were reported as intentionally killed or euthanized by the government in 29 states. That number does not include private hunters seeking pigs for their own purposes. There is no overall record of the number of feral swine hunted each year.

The pigs are native to Eurasia, but were introduced in the United States in the 1500s. They were initially released for food, but some were captured by hunters and introduced to new areas. They are mainly a problem in the southern U.S., with the highest populations residing in Texas, California, Florida, Hawaii and Oklahoma. Sizable populations are in Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri.

North Dakota is the only state bordering South Dakota to have held an established population of wild hogs. The North Dakota pigs are located along the Canadian border, in Rolette County.

The pigs appeared in the fall of 2007. There were attempts to trap the pigs, but after a winter of attempts to catch them, not a single pig was confined. The next spring, they disappeared, Wildlife Resource Management Supervisor Brian Prince said. The pigs have not been spotted since, but the National Feral Swine Mapping System still recognizes the population. The map is updated monthly by state wildlife agencies.

"We're not sure what happened, if the locals took care of them, or if they moved into Canada," Prince said.

There are an estimated 3 million wild pigs throughout Canada. Since 2008, Alberta has had a bounty of $50 per wild boar killed in an attempt to eradicate the population. The pigs pose a problem in Saskatchewan, Alberta and southern Manitoba, proving the pigs can endure harsh winters.

Keith Fisk, an administrator for the South Dakota Wildlife Damage Program, has only heard of a wild pig being seen in the state about once a year, and said most calls end up as false alarms.

"It's pretty minimal. We've been pretty lucky," Fisk said. "We have zero and we want to keep it at that."

Dustin Oedekoven, the South Dakota state veterinarian, said the state has a zero tolerance policy with feral swine due to the diseases they could spread to livestock and the damage they could cause to fields. Many of the diseases wild pigs can carry, such as the pseudo rabies virus and swine brucellosis, have been eradicated in domestic pigs, but could re-emerge if a population of wild hogs settles into the state.

"We have to remain vigilant for these pigs," Oedekoven said. "We have to do anything we can to keep them out."

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