War against wild hogs rages across state

Ed Godfrey The Oklahoman
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Scott Alls has been battling feral hogs for more than a decade.

As director of wildlife services for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, he and his staff spend most of their time trying to kill the wild pigs that terrorize the countryside.

“In the last 10 years, by far the majority of our work is aimed at pigs,” Alls said. “The numbers are just exploding because of their reproductive capabilities. I would say we are well above a million pigs (in the state).”

When Oklahoma farmers, ranchers and landowners have a pig problem, they turn to Alls for help. It takes eradicating 70% of wild hogs in an area just to keep the population level, he said.

Wild hogs are not managed as a game animal in Oklahoma and can be hunted year-round, but hunting has barely put a dent in the population, Alls said. In fact, the popularity of wild hog hunting and the hunting industry makes it more difficult to eliminate them, he said.

“There is no incentive to get rid of them when you can make money off them,” he said.

More Oklahoma landowners are starting to realize that selling hog hunts or leasing land for hog hunting does not make up for the financial losses caused by feral swine to agriculture and ranching, Alls said.

“It’s in the hundreds of millions,” Alls said of the economic damage caused by wild hogs in the state. “We feel certain of that.”

Hogs destroy pasture and agriculture fields that must be replanted time and again, he said.

“Look at corn, which costs you $400 an acre to plant, and some people have to plant three or four times because hogs root up all of their seed,” Alls said.

Feral hogs also hurt ecosystems and threaten livestock and human health by transmitting disease.

At the request of the agriculture department, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission last month voted to immediately prohibit all recreational hunting of feral swine on four wildlife management areas: Kaw, Sandy Sanders, Hackberry Flat and Waurika.

The 2018 Farm Bill gave the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry more money to wage war on feral swine. The agency has targeted four southwest Oklahoma counties — Cotton, Tillman, Jackson, and Harmon — along with Kay County as areas where it has a chance to significantly reduce the wild pig population and actually make a difference.

The agency asked the state wildlife commission to stop recreational hog hunting on the Wildlife Department’s public hunting lands in the area to help their chances.

“The more you hammer on these hogs with dogs or people hunting them, the spookier they get,” Alls said. “We can have pigs on bait and somebody comes through with a pack of hogs, it may be three weeks before we see those pigs again.”

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has more resources devoted to fighting hogs thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. It is adding two helicopters, bringing a total of three in its fleet for hog hunting from the sky this winter.

Agency staff shoot shotguns from low-flying helicopters to try and kill the feral swine, but that is difficult to do at times in eastern Oklahoma when there is a lot of available cover for the hogs.

The most effective method against wild hogs is trapping, Alls said. The newest traps contain a camera where the trapper can operate remotely. When the trap is full, a push of a button on the phone will drop a trap door on the hogs.

The agency on average captures 80 pigs a night across the state with the remote traps, Alls said. August and September are typically the two most successful months for baiting and trapping because there are fewer crops and food on the ground for the wild hogs, he said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be buying more of the remote traps in the future and loaning them to landowners, Alls said. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry now has personnel assigned solely to deal with wild hogs, he said.

While fighting wild hogs seems like a losing battle much of the time, Alls said there is hope, especially with more resources devoted to the war.

“If you throw enough time and effort and resources at them, you can make a difference,” he said.