[Russian wild boar skin hung to deter new hog visitors. Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation]
JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri has overwhelming number of wild hogs, one Missouri representative said, and he wants to get rid of them.
Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, is working to further regulate the commercial hunting industry by tightening fines and regulations for recklessly released animals. Loehner said this industry has contributed to the number of wild hogs in Missouri.
According to Loehner, these animals could have been released from a variety of sources: hog operations, pet owners and escapees from licensed hunting operations.
"People are raising hogs to hunt on private land (and) then the hogs get loose onto public land," Loehner said. "They go crazy and cause terrible property damage in certain areas."
As seen above, Russian and other European breeds of wild boars are bred for sport hunting purposes across the state. They are released in fenced areas to be hunted. However, Loehner said not all hogs are caught. They are typically left to roam freely and do not belong to any specific owner, he said.
Rex Martensen from the Missouri Department of Conservation said their behavior also contributes to soil erosion, reduced water quality, an increase in the spread of disease to humans and animals, damage to agricultural land and promotes natural resource depletion.
"They're opportunistic eaters," Martensen said. "When their snout comes across something, or anything, they'll try to eat it."
According to Michael Gaskins, a conservationist from Dent and Shannon counties, the problem with capturing the wild boars is the fact that they are nocturnal and hide where they can find thick brush, minimizing their chance of being disturbed. This makes the boars hard to find and able to cause large amounts of property damage during the night.
Leslie Holt, a conservationist from Texas county, said she would estimate around three to four complaints per month in her area and sees damages to mainly agricultural land. One of those recent complaints was concerning four wild hog nests within an 800 acre farm plot.
She said that the presence of hogs and their aggressive eating behavior drives other types of wildlife out of the areas, citing turkey, deer, rabbit and other ground animals as having trouble surviving.
"We completed an aerial viewing of the land in our county and noticed several hay fields completely rooted up," Holt said. "It also seemed to us that other wildlife were not present where wild hogs reside."
[Aerial view of a Texas County farm along the Big Piney River after wild boars destroyed valuable agriculture land. Photo courtesy of MDC]
Holt estimated that the average wild boar she has seen captured would be around 325 to 350 pounds and discovered around sows around 150-175 pound. Male hogs are referred to as boars and females are called sows.
According to the department's Web site, wild hogs are in 20 of Missouri's 114 counties and those counties are predominately in the southern half of the state.
Martensen said he is sure that the increased wild hog population is connected with commercial hog hunting facilities.
"The folks that want to hunt the hogs have a reason to keep them on the landscape and encourage their existence by releasing the pigs," Martensen said. "The run-of-the-mill guy wouldn't have much incentive to haul hogs and dump them."
On the contrary, Charles Puff, owner of High Adventure Ranch in Cook Station, Mo., said he knows the industry isn't to blame.
"Nobody would intentionally release them because they have value," Puff said. "It's just not going to happen."
Martensen said initial releases may have been attributed to a drop in the hog market in the 1970s and 1980s.
"When the hog market hit the bottom, they might've opened up the gates and let them to," Martensen said. "This may have created an older population that we need to control."
Puff said that Russian and Razorback boar hunting is a huge part of his business, ranking second in number of hunters. He estimated raising approximately 500-600 boars for hunting each year, all of which are naturally bred on his ranch. Some of those boars will reach more than 500 pounds.
Following the experience, hunters are free to take the hogs, eat the meat and send it to a taxidermist.
"We pioneered the business in Missouri over 28 years ago and we haven't had any problems keeping hogs on our property," Puff said. "The hogs have no reason to leave and it would be money out of my pocket."
To keep the hogs from leaving his ranch, his staff makes sure to provide adequate food and water, monitors them constantly and maintains electric fences around the property.
Puff said he thinks the fines and regulations proposed might be a little too high for smaller businesses to keep up with and doesn't think there are as many hogs being released as believed.
He said that the only thing increased legislation would do is cause prices for hunting to raise and possibly turn away potential customers.
[Young wild boar trapped in Iron Co. that weighed in at an estimated 100 pounds. Photo courtesy of Dan McMurtry from the USDA's Wildlife Services.]
"I guess this representative just doesn't have anything better to do with his time," Puff said.
Puff also serves on the legal committee for the Missouri White Tail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association.
If passed, the Missouri Department of Agriculture's director will be given the full power to decide on a list of regulations concerning fencing and health standards while in possession of a wild hog held on private land.
The department will also be responsible for awarding permits annually for possession of any wild hogs. It would be illegal to transport these wild hogs across public land, unless specifically meant for slaughter purposes.
"I would support an amendment that would allow for farm-to-farm transportation," said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem. "But otherwise, I like the legislation."
Loehner said he will support the suggested amendment.
If a person is found to be in violation of any of the above regulations concerning unlawful possession, confining and transportation of wild hogs, the legislation will implement a fine of up to $1000 and a class A misdemeanor. If a person recklessly releases swine into the wild, they will be fined:
The bill would also create the Animal Health Fund that keeps the legislation "cost neutral" by using the fines and administrative fees to enforce the new rules.
Martensen said that this legislation would help support the efforts of the Missouri Feral Hog Task Force chaired by the directors of the Department of Agriculture and Conservation.
"The main intent is to close some previously opened loopholes that some have wiggled through in the past," Martensen said.
[Jim Braithwait, MDC employee, with a typical wild boar trap. Photo courtesy of Dan McMurtry]