Canada’s ‘superpigs’ threaten to invade northern US states

In Canada, an exploding population of hard-to-eradicate “super pigs” threatens to spread south of the border, and northern states like Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana are taking steps to stop the invasion.

In Canada, wild pigs roaming Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pose a new threat. These are often crossbreeds that combine the survival abilities of the Eurasian wild boar with the size and high fertility of the domestic pig to create a “super pig” that spreads uncontrolled.

Ryan Brook, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of Canada’s leading authorities on the subject, calls the feral pig “the most invasive animal on the planet” and an “environmental train wreck.”

Pigs are not native to North America. Although they have roamed parts of the continent for centuries, Canada’s problem only dates back to the 1980s, when it encouraged farmers to raise wild boars, Brook said. The market collapsed after peaking in 2001 and some frustrated farmers simply cut their fences, freeing the animals.

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It turned out that pigs were very good at surviving Canadian winters. Intelligent, adaptable and furry, they eat everything, including crops and wildlife. They tear up the earth as they search for insects and crops. They can spread devastating diseases in pig farms, such as African swine fever. And they reproduce quickly. A sow can have six piglets in a litter and raise two litters per year.

That means 65 percent or more of a feral hog population could be k**led each year and that number will continue to rise, Brook said. Hunting only makes the problem worse, he said. The success rate for hunters is only about two to three percent, and several states have banned hunting because it makes hogs more wary and nocturnal, making them harder to track and eradicate.

Wild pigs already cause about $2.5 billion in damage to U.S. crops each year, mostly in southern states like Texas. And they can be aggressive towards humans. In Texas, a woman was k**led by wild pigs in 2019.

Eradicating feral hogs is no longer possible in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Brook said. But the situation is not desperate everywhere and a few American states have eliminated them. The key, he says, is to have a detection system that finds them early and quickly, then respond quickly.

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Brook and his colleagues documented 62,000 wild pig sightings in Canada. Their aerial surveys spotted them on both sides of the Canada-North Dakota border. They also recorded a sighting in Manitoba, less than 28 kilometers from Minnesota.

“No one should be surprised when pigs start crossing this border if they aren’t already,” Brook said. “The question is: what are we going to do about it?

Brook said Montana is most serious about fighting wild pigs. It prohibits the breeding and transportation of feral hogs within the state.

“The only way forward is to be really aggressive and use every tool in the toolbox,” Brook said.

This could include large ground traps with names like “BoarBuster” or net cannons fired from helicopters. Some states and provinces are adopting participatory “Squeal on Pigs” monitoring programs. Scientists have also studied poisons like sodium nitrite, but they have the potential to harm other species.

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Minnesota is among the states trying to prevent pork from taking hold. The state Department of Natural Resources is expected to release a report in February identifying gaps in its management plan and recommending new prevention measures. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is using planes and drones to step up surveillance along the northern border.

Minnesota was declared an eradicated state after USDA Wildlife Services shot and k**led a group of pigs in 2016 that had strayed from a farm and gone feral in far northwest Minnesota. ‘State – but not before they started breeding and uprooting a wildlife preserve. Gary Nohrenberg, director of Minnesota Wildlife Services, said that to his knowledge, no truly wild pigs have yet made it to his state.

Feral hogs have been reported in at least 35 states, according to the USDA. The agency estimates that the pig population in these states is around 6 million.

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Since the National Feral Swine Management Program launched in 2014, USDA has provided funding to 33 states, said Mike Marlow, deputy program director. He said their goal is to eradicate wild pigs where populations are low or emerging, and to limit damage where they are already established, such as in Texas and southeastern states.

The program has seen success in some sparsely populated states like Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Washington, he said. The animals are spotted occasionally and quickly k**led in North Dakota.

“I think we’re making great strides toward success,” Marlow said. “But eradication is not in the near future.”

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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