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Montana Prepares For Feral Swine Invasion

Farmers, hunters and other residents of Montana, especially the Hi-Line, are urged to be alert for a large, smart, harmful invasive species that may be headed this way.

Feral pigs, often called wild boars, are infesting Canada and are headed south. The pigs can cause crop damage, as well as harm to domestic animals and wildlife. They can carry disease to other animals and even humans. State officials say it is a serious problem, and a University of Saskatchewan professor who studies the animal calls it a crisis.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has set up a “Squeal On Pigs!” hotline. Agency officials are asking people who spot a feral pig to immediately call (406) 444-2976.

But tempting as it might sound, people are not to shoot the feral hogs, said Scott Thomspon, wildlife manager for FWP’s Region 6 headquarters in Glasgow, an area that includes most of the Hi-Line, including Havre.

FWP is working with the Montana Department of Livestock to prepare for the feared invasion.

Feral pigs are among the smartest of animals, he said. They usually travel in groups and when they see one of their kin get shot, they are likely to scatter in different directions. The end result: The swine scatter over an even larger area. That’s why Montana has outlawed the hunting of feral pigs.

Ryan Brooks, the University of Saskatchewan professor, addressed a seminar sponsored by the Department of Livestock in Billings last week.

Brooks was critical of efforts by provincial and federal governments in his country to curb the species’ spread and warned Montanans that trying to prevent feral hogs’ arrival here would be far easier than eradicating the problem.

Feral hogs have been a major problem in Texas and southeastern states, and efforts to reduce the infestation have been thwarted by the rapidly reproducing animals. 

But it is unlikely that these hogs are the problem in Canada, he said. 

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In the 1980s, many ranchers imported Russian and Polish hogs, seeing profit in the tasty pork that could be produced.

But that turned out to be more trouble and less profitable than imagined. Some hogs escaped from the large farms. In other cases, they were released by farmers into the wilds of northern Canada, he said, where they quickly multiplied.

He said the infestation has become more severe in recent years.

A 2017 map of the infestations show no serious problem near the Montana border, he said.

A new map in progress will show Montana remains free of feral pigs, but infestations are just north of the border.

As the animals travel, they often interbred with domestic pigs, he said, resulting in a bigger, stronger, smarter feral pig.

An audience member asked Brooks if the grizzlies and foxes of Montana would fight off feral hogs.

If anything, Brooks said, he was more afraid of what the pigs would do to the native animals.

He said other animals, including bison, may have a hard time fighting off the hogs. The pigs are large, razor-backed animals, with very sharp tusks.

More likely though, he said, the threat to wildlife will be that the hogs will rob the food supply from the indigenous animals.

Despite the problems presented by the animals, Brooks said, some wildlife groups oppose any efforts to control the pigs.

Brooks said a petition to “Save the Canadian Wild Boars” has collected 14,000 signatures.

“I’m not on their Christmas card list” he said.

Email John Kelleher at john@havreherald.com

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