APHIS to lead 'nationally coordinated program' to manage feral swine

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2015 - The Agriculture Department is moving ahead with a plan to attack the feral swine problem with a strategy that will vary by state and require help from state and local governments.

In a 500-plus page environmental impact statement being published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and eight other government agencies announce a nationally coordinated program to control damage and risks to agriculture, animal health, human health, property, and cultural and natural resources brought about by a growing herd of feral swine.

Together we can feed the Bees"

APHIS issued a Record of Decision (ROD) last month declaring the nationally coordinated program its preferred alternative after studying five different approaches to the issue.

The plan calls for eliminating the feral swine from some states while managing the populations in others and eliminating them from specific locations.

There is a need for a nationally coordinated (feral swine disaster management) program to aid federal, state, territorial, tribal, local, and private management efforts to reduce damage, and threats to human and animal health from feral swine, the impact statement notes, pointing to the significant damage feral swine can do to agricultural and other lands.

The program's goals include eliminating feral swine from two states every 5 years and to stop the increase in damage from feral swine within 10 years. Aerial shooting has proven to be an effective way to kill the animals and would likely increase under the APHIS plan.

According to APHIS, there are 6 million of the animals across at least 38 states.

Feral swine are prone to rooting, trampling, and rolling on pastures and fields, sometimes destroying them in the process. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Gene Richardson, associate director of commodities and regulatory activities with Texas Farm Bureau, said action is needed to fight the invasive species.

We'd like to just throw the kitchen sink at it if we can, Richardson said, adding that feral hogs do millions of dollars in damage in Texas, one of the states hit hardest by the animals.

Feral swine are said to have originated from historic production practices that allowed swine to range outside fenced areas. Some animals escaped from the rest of their herds, leading to a growing herd of wild swine that reproduces quickly, evades hunters, and causes unspeakable damage to agricultural and residential acres.

They're so productive you could kill one-third of them and you won't make an impact, Richardson said, guessing that the population would recover within a year because the animals can reproduce and mature so fast.

Aside from the physical damage to land and equipment, feral swine can also prey on young farm animals or even adult animals in vulnerable situations such as giving birth. The animals are known to carry diseases such as pseudorabies and have been implicated in in promoting mosquito habitat. Because of the unknown disease status of the wild animals, their meat is commonly deemed unsafe and infected although many individuals still choose to consume it.

Meanwhile, USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service is surveying nearly 10,000 farmers across 11 states - Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas - to determine how many producers are being affected and how much damage the swine are causing.

APHIS considered five alternatives to address the feral swine issue: a status quo option with no additional action; combining national and local efforts as well as working with Canada and Mexico; a focus on national attack to the issue with most of the money going to operational management efforts; an alternative that would address national and local projects in high priority states; and an alternative that would have doled out grants to states seeking to fight their own respective infestations.

In the end, APHIS opted to pursue the second alternative to combine a national effort with more local needs by working with agency partners, tribes, and local entities.

The program will include national projects to reduce the range and size of the national feral swine population, strategic projects at the local level, and additional coordination with Canada and Mexico.

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