A September 2006 outbreak of E.coli in 26 states that sickened more than 200 people and led to the deaths of three may have been caused by feral swine roaming on a central California spinach farm, according to a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

Feral swine carry myriad diseases that can affect people, livestock and wildlife. Many carry trichinae, a parasite long eliminated from the domestic U.S. hog herd, while up to 30 percent have leptospirosis, a bacterium that can cause muscle pain, fever, bleeding from the lungs and even meningitis in people.

Nearly as important, feral swine are very destructive of ecosystems, wildlife habitat, wildlife and agricultural lands. We’ve heard that some farmers have given up trying to grow crops because wild hogs eat the seedlings and ravage the ground. USDA believes the invasive species’ destructive impact on agriculture is at least $1 billion each year; total damage nationwide is estimated at more than $2 billion annually.

With feral swine detected in at least 37 states, this clearly is a nationwide problem requiring a nationwide solution. And while USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has worked on the issue for years, it wasn't until Congress gave the agency $20 million in 2014 for a collaborative, national management initiative that a robust effort to deal with feral swine launched.  

The 2018 Farm Bill strengthened that effort significantly, allocating $75 million over five years to be divided evenly between APHIS and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for a Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program.

Our two agencies, working with state technical committees, have identified areas in 10 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas – with high populations of feral swine where we’ll implement pilot projects.

As it did for the past five years under the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program, APHIS will focus on suppressing and eliminating wild hogs in agricultural areas to protect crops, pastures and infrastructure and to reduce risks to livestock and wildlife.

NRCS, which works on agricultural conservation efforts, will give financial assistance to farmers through non-federal partners that will provide outreach, training and equipment for trapping feral swine. (NRCS issued an Announcement of Program Funding to solicit proposals from partners. Click here for more information.) It also will help APHIS gain access to lands where feral swine have been identified. 

Additionally, the agency will use other programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, to help restore lands damaged by feral swine.

This is a daunting task because feral swine adapt to almost any habitat, have few natural enemies and reproduce at high rates – there are an estimated 6 million of them nationwide. It’s also a serious and important undertaking because they are threatening our environment, our ability to grow food and even our very health.

Matt Lohr is chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Kevin Shea is administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.