FARGO — The videos are out there if you want to find them. Good ol' boys in Texas sitting in blinds, plunking feral hogs in the head with high-powered rifles. Some guys track the pigs with dogs before killing them. That's part of the sport, too. In some cases, hunters shoot the swine from helicopters, reminiscent of a video game.
It's this type of publicity that has some believing feral hogs are a positive, another four-legged game species for hunters to pursue like deer or elk.
Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Dr. Beth Carlson, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture's deputy veterinarian.
"They are an invasive species. Incredibly destructive to the landscape, particularly to agricultural land," she said.
That's why the Ag Department posted on Facebook this week alerting the public that feral swine were recently reported in multiple North Dakota counties and anybody spotting feral hogs should immediately call the state veterinarian's office at 701-328-2655.
The post has been shared about 500 times and attracted almost 120 comments.
"We got some mileage out of that post," Carlson joked.
Most of the comments were directed at a paragraph in the post that said it's illegal to hunt or trap feral hogs in North Dakota, leading most people to question the wisdom of protecting animals that are considered invasive and destructive.
"There are several reasons for that law, which was put in place after we consulted with other states that have feral swine issues," Carlson said. "Sometimes domestic pigs escape and the law gives the owner time to capture his animals. Prohibiting hunting prevents it from becoming a sport. When it becomes a popular pastime, there is disincentive to eradicate the entire population of feral swine, which is our goal. Also, pigs are pretty smart, so if you shoot one, the rest of the group scatters and becomes educated and that makes it that much more difficult to trap and remove them. The goal is to remove an entire group of hogs at one time and we have people who are specially trained to do that."
It turns out feral hogs were spotted in Stutsman and Grand Forks counties, with anywhere from 20 to 40 animals in each group. Some of the pigs in Stutsman County were claimed and captured. The Grand Forks County pigs were a smaller group that had escaped and were rounded up, Carlson said.
Officials do not believe the state has any established local feral pig populations and they'd like to keep it that way.
The first documented case of feral pigs in North Dakota came in 2007, when two separate groups were reported: one in the Badlands and another in the Turtle Mountains. Feral pig reports have popped up in several other areas of the state since then. Carlson said Canada has an established population of feral Eurasian pigs and they'll sometimes wander across the border into North Dakota.
Maybe a border wall would make sense after all.
If all this conversation about pigs has you shrugging — how can more potential bacon on the landscape be a bad thing? — you should know feral pigs are wreaking havoc in 39 states and several provinces. It's estimated that between 2 and 6 million hogs are roaming wild, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, causing about $2 billion in damage annually. Most of that is done to agricultural land because the pigs eat crops and are capable of rooting several feet into the ground, but like most invasive species the defilement is widespread.
Wild pigs also carry 30 diseases and nearly 40 parasites that can be transmitted to livestock, people, pets, and wildlife.
"They are aggressive toward certain wildlife populations — turtles, birds, reptiles. Really anything. They've been known to carry away fawns and eat them. They are pigs. They will eat anything," Carlson said. "And they have no natural predators. They are amazingly good at adapting to the environment. Those feral hogs we had in the Badlands in 2007 survived the winter. They had some frostbitten ears and tails, but they'd find a cattail slough and bed down in there and they were just fine."
Texas is ground zero for feral hogs. There are more than a million of the critters in Texas and they do an estimated $400 million in damage each year, according to a 2011 article in Smithsonian magazine. Once a population gets established, getting rid of it is not deemed possible because pigs are such prolific breeders. Sows begin breeding at 6-8 months and have two litters of four to eight piglets a year.
The pigs are so prolific that experts believe feral swine populations reduced by 70 percent bounce back to full strength in a year or two, according to the magazine.
That's why North Dakota put the word out about feral swine. And why those online videos you see of wild hog hunting aren't the real story.