The Canadian Prairies might face a new boar war as the number and destructive capacity of feral pigs increases.
Provinces need a co-ordinated response to the threat before the numbers of this imported pest grow too large.
The call to arms against wild boars is best laid out by Ryan Brook, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college.
After years of researching wild boars using trail cameras triggered by passing wildlife, Brook and colleague Floris van Beest from Aarhus University in Denmark have concluded that wild boar populations are larger and more dispersed than originally thought.
Populations are still small in most areas, but that could change quickly.
A breeding female can have two litters of six or more piglets a year and, with few natural predators, most mature to adults, Brook says.
If not controlled, there is the potential for numbers to explode and cause problems like in the United States, where damage tops $1 billion in lost crops, livestock harassment and damage to the ecosystem.
The boars, native to Europe, were introduced to the Prairies in the 1980s and 1990s when struggling farmers experimented with alternative livestock in a search for profitable diversification options.
Hunt farms sprang up but it was difficult to keep the intelligent and resourceful boars fenced in. A number escaped and established free roaming populations.
They eat most things, from plants to small creatures such as salamanders to bird eggs. Brook likens them to rototillers for their practice of rooting up acres of ground with their tusks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says feral swine are highly mobile disease reservoirs and can carry at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases in addition to 37 parasites that affect people, pets, livestock and wildlife.
All three prairie provinces encourage hunting of these animals.
There is no restriction on shooting them aside from getting the landowner’s approval.
Alberta also has a $50 a head bounty. Saskatchewan provides $50,000 a year to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities to help municipalities eradicate the animals.
Manitoba has declared the whole province a wild boar control area with wide open hunting throughout the year.
However, it is nearly impossible to control populations with sport hunting alone. Wild boars are difficult to spot. They are mostly nocturnal and evade humans.
Experts say the entire boar cell must be killed or survivors become more evasive.
Aggressive control techniques are needed, including spotting and hunting from aircraft and using bait to attract the entire cell into a corral trap where they can be shot.
The USDA is testing the use of sodium nitrite as a humane poison. Australia has used it to sharply reduce populations.
Alberta just introduced new fencing requirements for commercial boar farms and ranches to be phased in over five years. Such standards are needed in every province.
The number of wild boar operations still operating in Western Canada is now down to a handful, but they must be monitored. By next year, feral pigs will be included in the federal livestock identification program and will need to be ear tagged. This should help identify and fine operations that allow animals to escape.
It would be wise for all prairie provinces to adopt similar controls for wild boar operations.
They should also fund monitoring and eradication efforts similar to Alberta’s successful rat eradication plan.
A modest investment today will avoid much larger costs down the road.
Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen and D’Arce McMillan collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.