Contact: Kent Keene, Lower Midwestern States Coordinator
On May 24, the United States Forest Service (USFS) began a 60-day public comment period allowing stakeholders to weigh in on the proposed closure of Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) to feral hog hunting.
Mark Twain National Forest covers 1.5 million acres across 29 counties throughout the Missouri Ozarks and is a popular public destination for sportsmen and women. The proposed closure of feral hog hunting would allow the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to align the management strategy of MTNF with what is currently practiced on state-owned lands.
The recent move to close hog hunting in MTNF gained support after Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) was detected in a feral hog killed in Wayne County. PRRS is a viral disease that causes reproductive failure and respiratory issues in pigs. PRRS, in addition to the many other concerns associated with feral hogs (e.g., disease, competition with native wildlife, ecosystem damage), poses a serious threat to Missouri’s $881M swine industry.
Feral hog hunting has been closed on state properties since 2016 and, based on current population estimates, this move has increased MDC’s efficacy in decreasing populations through “whole-sounder removal”. This strategy works by allowing trappers to monitor an area and select a trap location that maximizes the likelihood of catching the entire sounder, or group, of feral hogs at one time.
Many wildlife management agencies favor whole-sounder removal because of the reproductive and dispersal characteristics of feral hogs. Unlike most North American game mammals, feral hogs are able to produce multiple litters per year consisting of 4-12 piglets. For this reason, feral hog population growth can quickly overwhelm an ecosystem’s ability to support hogs and other wildlife species. Additionally, feral hogs are often adept at avoiding hunters, thereby limiting the efficiency of hunters and sharpshooters who may only take part of the sounder per opportunity. Whereas hunting is the preferred tool for managing populations of most game species, current research suggests that whole-sounder removal is the most effective management option for feral hogs.
Feral hogs pose serious threats to native forests, grasslands, rivers, and streams, as well as game and non-game species that inhabit these ecosystems. Additionally, feral hogs cause billions of dollars in agricultural damage annually. As such, feral hog management practices that focus on eradication stand to provide the greatest benefit to our farmers, as well as our native ecosystems and sportsmen and women.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?