Wild pigs have inhabited Alabama’s forests for decades, but years of suitable habitat, ample food sources and rapid reproduction have dealt landowners throughout the state a low blow. Woodlands aren’t the only areas taking a hit; farmers are dealing with hog damage in crop and pasture land.
Alabama Cooperative Extension Forestry and Wildlife Specialist, Dr. Mark Smith, said the now illegal practice of live capture, transport and release for recreational hunting purposes has been the number one reason for the surge in pig prevalence and hence, damage.
“Natural pig movement is a relatively slow process,” Smith said. “Humans have sped it up by transporting them to formerly uninhabited areas. Once they become established in a new area, their high rate of reproduction takes over.”
Wild Pigs in Alabama
Smith said many suggest domesticated swine were introduced to Alabama during DeSoto’s expedition in the mid 1500’s, but researchers don’t have a concrete record to confirm it. Earliest known records indicate the
pigs have been in Alabama since at least the 1770s.
Counting animals on a statewide basis is very difficult, therefore researchers do not have a specific number of swine located in the state. However, an approximation of the distribution of wild pigs in the state based on survey work conducted with wildlife law enforcement officers shows a steady increase in the spread of the population.
“Back in 2001, approximately 9.1 percent of Alabama had wild pig populations,” Smith said. “When we conducted the survey again in 2013, close to 30 percent of Alabama had wild, free-ranging populations of wild pigs.”
Pigs possess many behavioral and biological traits that enable them to live in a variety of areas and populate quickly. Wild pigs are habitat generalists, meaning they are highly adaptable and can live in many different habitat types throughout a landscape or region. The pigs can tolerate a variety of climates–from hot, humid swamps of Florida to the cold wind-swept prairies of Saskatchewan.
While the hogs are omnivores, when the opportunity arises they will eat small mammals and eggs or young of ground-nesting birds and reptiles. For the most part, they eat plant matter and invertebrate animals such as worms, insects and larvae.
Hogs have a high reproductive potential, reaching maturity as early as six months of age and averaging four to six piglets per litter. Coupled with the low natural mortality rate, these animals are poised for long lives in their area of choice.
Effects on Crop- and Wood- Lands
Feral hog populations do not discriminate against property boundary lines. The animals move easily from one area to another if there are ample food and cover.
Smith said the most recent estimates indicated $50 million per year in damage to agricultural land in Alabama.
“Fifty million dollars in damage per year is likely a low estimate,” he said. “We are currently conducting a new survey to get more accurate numbers.”
The new survey comes on the heels of a Georgia colleague estimating $57 million in damages/loss in the southwest corner of Georgia alone.
Wild pigs consume and trample crops, often damaging cropland in the process. Rooting and wallowing create huge holes that can damage farm equipment and create issues for equipment operators if unnoticed.
Hogs can also damage forests through a variety of means, but mainly through rooting and consumption of acorns. Both pines and hardwoods are susceptible to the damage.
Acorn consumption significantly affects hardwood regeneration, and in some areas Smith said researchers have seen consumption of the roots of recently planted longleaf pines–though it isn’t very common.
Wild pigs inhabiting Alabama began as a small inconvenience and an exciting prospect for avid game hunters. Now, with millions of dollars in damage to crops and woodlands, landowners are taking aim and working to control the population and limit the damages.
There are several resources available online that provide information for managing wild pigs including information on trapping and other control techniques. A comprehensive resource is “A Landowner’s Guide for Wild Pig Management” available as a free PDF download from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System that would be a good starting point for unbiased science-based information.