Solutions for the feral swine problem are about as elusive as the pigs themselves. For several years, agricultural media and the popular press have documented the growing numbers and distribution of feral pigs, particularly in the southern half of the United States. We know they damage crops and wildlife habitat, and potentially serve as reservoirs for diseases affecting livestock.

According to a recent release from Kansas State University, the animals cause damages estimated at $1.5 billion each year.

In an effort to reduce damage and protect domestic livestock, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is asking for input from the public on its proposed environmental impact statement as part of the APHIS Feral Swine Damage Management Program. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 2. Charlie Lee, wildlife management specialist for K-State Research and Extension, explains that before APHIS can make a decision on the best approach to manage feral swine damage, the National Environmental Policy Act requires the evaluation of the potential impacts associated with various types of control methods.

The potential for feral swine to carry and spread livestock disease is particularly worrisome to U.S. cattle and swine producers. During the 2013 National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) conference on foot and mouth disease (FMD), epidemiologist Lindsey Holmstrom, DVM, from the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD) at Texas A&M University outlined diseases feral swine can carry and the risk of introducing pathogens to domestic livestock. Those diseases include swine brucellosis, pseudorabies, trichinosis, leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis, classical swine fever, FMD, bovine tuberculosis and many others.

The APHIS proposed environmental impact statement outlines the benefits and drawbacks of an array of control methods. One method, which already is in use but has become controversial, is sport hunting to reduce swine numbers. Several states allow and encourage sport hunting for feral hogs, often with no bag limits and year-around hunting seasons. Some wildlife managers, however, believe that sport hunting could be counterproductive in control efforts. Part of their reasoning is that hunting scatters the animals and makes them more elusive and wary of humans, making it more difficult for authorities to capture or kill them using other methods. Another reason is that the popularity of sport hunting creates demand for hogs and an incentive to maintain or even expand their range. Landowners with hog populations can generate a revenue stream through hunting leases or fee hunting, possibly motivating them to manage the animals as wild game rather than focusing on eradication. Also, people with an interest in hunting can be tempted to capture and relocate hogs into new areas.

For these reasons, Kansas banned sport hunting for feral hogs with a law passed in 2006. Kansas landowners or designated agents for landowners can hunt feral hogs on their properties after obtaining a permit from the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health, according to the K-State release.

In any case, sport hunting alone is unlikely to remove enough hogs to make a substantial difference.

According to Lee, feral hogs can have up to three litters per year with a dozen or so pigs per litter. Research indicates, he adds, that feral hog populations in the United States must be reduced by about 70 percent each year just to keep up with reproduction.

To view the draft environmental impact statement, and submit comments, log on to the Regulations.gov website.