Saskatchewan needs management plan to avoid millions in losses
A University of Saskatchewan researcher is warning ranchers, farmers and provincial officials about a possible explosion in the province’s wild boar population.
Although he can’t put a number to the animal’s population today, Ryan Brook says it’s easy to imagine wild boars someday outnumbering people in the province.
“If you (think you) have even extremely low densities of wild boar, in all likelihood there’s an intermediate to moderate or high density, and that’s going to translate into significant crop damage and further risks,” said Brook.
“I think we’re just seeing the very tiny tip of the iceberg right now.”
In a recently published study, Brook found that wild boars have been spotted in 70 percent of the province’s rural municipalities, from the forest fringe south to the U.S. border and from Manitoba to Alberta.
Most of those animals are likely present in small densities, but the survey cut a wider swath than Brook expected. And with sows capable of having two litters of six or more piglets per year, the population can grow quickly.
“There is enough habitat to support very high populations of boar, but that depends on actions that we take,” said Brook.
“Is there going to be work to mitigate these animals and try and control it or are we going to stand back like a house on fire and just let it go and let it burn?”
The animals are known for their destruction: mowing down crops, rooting through pastures and putting a scare into livestock. They are also nocturnal, evasive and dangerous to hunt.
In the United States, the animals are noted for their tendency to eat anything and everything, from roots to plant material to salamanders and waterfowl eggs. They are blamed for more than $1 billion a year in damages, and millions of dollars are spent on co-ordinated control efforts to hunt them.
Moose Mountain Provincial Park in southeastern Saskatchewan has been a hot spot for wild boar since the early 2000s.
Bob Brickley, who ranches along the north end of the park, can recall a small group of 14 boar taking out 15 acres of oats in a week.
“We realized then if we let these animals multiply like they do, within just a very few years we literally wouldn’t be able to survive economically farming. They would take everything we grew,” said Brickley.
In his more than a decade tracking the animal, Brickley has learned that hunting them involves more than finding a boar and pulling the trigger.
After two years of unsuccessful management, Brickley and a small group of producers began using a fixed-wing aircraft to spot the animals’ nests from the air. Once spotted, it takes a methodical group effort on the ground to take out the animals.
“It’s our firm strategy that we don’t go in on a nest unless we’re very confident that we’re going to get them all,” said Brickley.
“If you leave one or two, they be-come extremely evasive and they educate others that they get in contact with and long before you ever get to a nest, they’re gone.”
The group takes to the sky every winter following elk season when weather permits. Brickley said they might get 15 to 20 days a year and kill 120 animals.
The effort has received support from the rural municipality, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation and the provincial government, he said.
The control effort has been successful, but re-infestation remains a problem, he added.
“We’ve spent thousands of man hours and we’ve had this park on three occasions wild boar free, and then they’ve moved back in from the sources,” said Brickley, who identified commercial wild boar operations as a problem.
Wild boar were first imported to the Prairies as livestock in the 1990s.
Brook said management strategies have varied, although Manitoba, which has been declared a control area since 2001, leads the charge.
The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities receives a limited amount of funding for a wild boar control program, but Brook said the province lags.
“If we decide that we want a large numbers of boar and we want to stand back and do very little, which is basically what Saskatchewan is doing right now, making a minimal effort, we’re going to be in a management scenario,” said Brook.
“We’re going to be paying probably, in the future, millions of dollars per year in compensation or losses.”