Prolific feral swine populations are ravaging eastern New Mexico range and farmland and creating an ecological nightmare, according to state and federal wildlife officials.
An astonishing reproductive rate has seen hogs spread to 17 New Mexico counties in just seven years.
Farmer and rancher Ted Rush of Quay County has hunted and killed more than 300 feral swine on his land. They rooted up his feed roads and destroyed thousands of dollars in milo and sorghum crops.
“My wheat fields looked like they’d been bombed by the military, there were huge craters everywhere” Rush said.
An increase in similar incidents could have a potentially devastating effect on New Mexico’s economy.
Since Curry and Roosevelt counties do not have rivers and streams, which feral hogs depend on to keep cool, Curry County extension agent Stan Jones said he does not anticipate a huge problem in our area. State director of wildlife services Alan May disagrees.
“A population of feral pigs is doing quite well in the sandhills of New Mexico living off livestock water troughs provided by ranchers” May said.
Ron Jones, a wildlife specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he utilizes abandoned windmill sites with running water to track the pig’s progress across the state.
Jones said, “There are only two kinds of land owners in New Mexico — those who have feral pigs- and those who will.”
Jones said DNA studies of euthanized feral pigs have traced their genetic pools to Wisconsin, Nebraska and Louisiana, raising suspicions that some of the pigs were originally imported into the state for hunting purposes. Others are simply renegade domestic pigs who have adapted to life in the wild or migrated to the area.
The hogs are invasive predators that have turned the states ecosystems upside down. Not only do they prey on young livestock, such as lambs and kid goats, they actively hunt young fawns and devour populations of rodents, reptiles and rabbits, which sustain New Mexico’s eagles, hawks, owls and coyotes, according to Ron Jones.
The voracious swine also decimate cactus pear apple, pinion nut, acorn and mesquite bean sources that sustain native wildlife.
Jones said feral swine have invaded the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge for birds and threaten to drive New Mexico’s protected sand dune lizard into extinction.
The hog’s horrific rooting habits are transforming the state’s landscape by destroying native grasses and leaving invasive and noxious weeds in their stead.
If that’s not bad enough, feral swine carry more than 20 diseases that have been known to wipe out herds of domestic livestock, according to Ron Jones. They carry pseudorabies virus, which is deadly to cattle, horses, pets, and wildlife. They carry a strain of swine brucellosis that does not kill cattle, but shows up in infected herds as a false positive for bovine brucellosis, requiring quarantine, Ron Jones said.
May said hogs can also contaminate water supplies throughout infested areas.
Call to arms
Ron Jones has watched this silent, natural disaster sweep across the state for seven years.
“It’s time for action” he said. “We need to draw a line and decide how far we’re going to let this go.” The USDA and other state agencies have sanctioned an eradication plan, but don’t have the manpower or resources to implement it. Jones hopes that public awareness will help bolster support for the plan.
• Feral swine do $800 million in damage annually across the United States.
• Wild hogs begin breeding as young as six months and produce two litters of six to nine offspring annually.
• A hog population can double in four months.
• The average weight of a feral hog is 120 pounds, though they can grow to more than 400 pounds.
• They have razor sharp tusks that can grow to 5 inches.
• Feral hogs prefer to run from humans, but have been known to attack under duress.
Hunting feral hogs
The Department of Game and Fish does not regulate or manage the hunting of feral swine, therefore no permit is required and hogs may be hunted year round.
Written permission is required to hunt on private lands.
Hogs can be hunted on most public lands, including the Lincoln National Forest.
Feral hogs are edible but must be cooked thoroughly to destroy diseases. Avoid feeding the raw meat to animals.
Swine hunters should take precautions when field dressing wild pigs. Use gloves and cover nose, mouth and eyes to prevent contact with bodily fluids.
If you spot feral hogs please contact:
USDA wildlife services at 505-346-2640
Federal wildlife specialist Ron Jones at 575-799-8679
USDA office, Roswell at 575-623-3310
Other sources: wildlife.state.nm, nmlbonline.com, dnr.wi.gov/org