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Feral hogs: A growing problem in East Tennessee

11:32 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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On the Cumberland Plateau, locals say feral hogs are a problem they have been dealing with for decades.

The nocturnal creatures, which hunters say can sometimes weigh up to 400 pounds, are spread across Cumberland, Fentress, and Overton counties. And, the Tennessee Hunters Alliance, a hunters' rights group in the area, said it has one goal: to take them out.

"Heritage for us, we've just been raised in dogs and hogs all our lives," said Brandon Griffin, who hunts with his twin 17-year-old brother Brent, and father Scott.

Brandon Griffin said sometimes feral hogs will even charge toward hunters when cornered by their Blue Tick Hound dogs. But, the Tennessee Hunters Alliance said it is not only interested in killing hogs for sport. The group said they are also killing feral hogs to help local farmers.

"They're just a nuisance to property owners out here, trying to raise a crop, corn or wheat" said hunter Donald Moore said.

Feral pigs are known for digging up land and eating the multiple crops farmers plant in their field. According to TWRA, feral hogs cause up to $1.5 billion in agricultural and environmental losses in the United States annually.

More Information: Mississippi State University study on feral hogs 

But, according to TWRA, the wild swine aren't only a problem on farms. TWRA Wildlife Manager Bill Smith said they're a problem everywhere.

"They're real adaptive, so they could be in Knoxville right now," he said. "Yes, they could."

According to Smith, the largest feral hog populations can be found in the mountainous areas of East Tennessee. He told 10News, TWRA is even finding them in Maryville.

Smith oversees Kyker Bottoms Refuge in Maryville. He said the feral hogs there destroy the native grasses other animals, like quail, need to survive.

"One thing that does concern us, particularly over the quail, is a Texas study, in which they destroyed 30 percent of quail nests, if that happens here, we're in serious trouble," Smith said.

TWRA said most feral hogs are the result of domestic pig populations that broke free into the wild generations ago. Smith said the feral hogs at Kyker Bottoms are ancestors of Russian boar originally brought to a North Carolina hunting preserve that escaped and mated with loose farm hogs in the 1920s.

TWRA said feral hogs are opportunistic and will feed on just about anything including toads, salamanders and lizards. Besides humans, the only other predators that are capable of killing smaller feral hogs are bobcats, coyotes and large raptors.

More Information: TWRA Feral Hog regulations 

Feral hogs also multiply quickly. Smith told 10News a feral hog can reproduce anywhere from six to eight months of age. From there, they can have two litters a year that can result in six to eight piglets each.

He said a feral hog population can double in just four months.

Right now, there is no exact number as to how many feral hogs are actually in the state of Tennessee. However, Smith did say TWRA estimates there have been 4,100 feral hogs killed this year.

"But, that's still a grain of sand on the beach I'm afraid," he said.

In 2011, TWRA created a number of new regulations to cut down the feral hog population. It decided to work with other state agencies like the Department of Agriculture to crack down on people who illegally smuggle the animals into the state. The agency also decided to reclassify feral hogs from "big game" status to "nuisance animal." With that move, TWRA made it illegal to hunt feral hogs in the state's wildlife management areas. Now, hunters can only "incidentally take" feral hogs while they're hunting other big game.

Previous Story: Hunters voice concerns after wild hog hunting changes 

Smith said TWRA found that hunting has the tendency to move pigs around instead of actually getting rid of them. He said trapping has proven to be the most effective method.

"At first we just tried to let hunters kill them, and that was the preferred method, but that proved to be ineffective," Smith said. "In this area [Kyker], we've killed 111 in five years and out of that many, six have been killed by actual hunters."

Landowners are allowed to get exemption status for themselves, and 10 other designees, to hunt feral hogs on their own land.

But, the changes were not welcome by everyone in the state, especially the Tennessee Hunters Alliance.

"I think it is completely walking all over hunters' rights," Moore said. "We've been dedicated license hunters for years and it was always my opinion TWRA's job was to promote hunting over control through hunting, and they've just failed miserably."

The hunters particularly had a problem with the permit process TWRA has implemented for landowners.

"It is just a burden to go through this permit process," said hunter Jason Barnwell.

More Information: The Tennessee Hunters Alliance 

He said many farmers lease the land they tend their crops on. Barnwell told 10News he has heard numerous cases in which farmers have wanted to get a permit for private land hunting, but cannot because the property's actual landowner fails to do so.

He also said the permit process fails to take into account feral hogs' mobility. Barnwell said if a feral hog goes onto another person's property while he is hunting, there is no way he can kill it.

"We're not moving them around, we're killing them," he said.

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