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Traps, Drones And Sharpshooters. Here’s How Missouri ‘Turned The Corner’ On Controlling Feral Hogs

A trap containing caught feral hogs
University of Missouri Extension
Feral hogs can be captured in traps like this one. Trapping has been the most common tool Mark Twain National Forest staff members have used to eliminate more than 6,000 wild pigs in the past two years.

ROLLA — A group of agencies including the managers of the Mark Twain National Forest has eliminated more than 6,000 feral hogs over the past two years, and is optimistic that the nuisance animals are close to being under control.

Compared to 2016, there has been more than a 50% decrease in land occupied by feral hogs in the Mark Twain National Forest, from 12 million acres to 6 million.

“I think what we are doing is working, but there is still more work to be done,” said Amy Salveter, incident commander of Feral Hog Interagency Elimination Efforts for Mark Twain National Forest.

All Your Feral Hog Questions, Answered
Listen to reporter Jonathan Ahl and feral hog trapper Kevin Crider discuss Missouri's success in culling the feral hogs wreaking havoc in rural areas on "St. Louis on the Air."

Wild pigs have no natural predators in the United States, and they reproduce quickly. Their large numbers have led to large-scale damage in farmland and conservation areas, largely because their tusks dig up to 8 inches of soil as they look for food, according to the University of Missouri Extension.

They also are a threat to native plants and animals by destroying habitat.

Feral hog activity has even been identified as a significant contributor to climate change, with the same impact as the emissions of more than a million cars each year.

Increased trapping and hunting efforts over the past two years are showing results, Salveter said.

“We’re not getting the number of complaints from landowners that we have in the past. We are finding less hog signs, overall. And the hog signs that we are finding are mostly from lone individuals,” Salveter said.

Large groups of hogs, known as sounders, are becoming more rare, and control efforts are going high tech to catch the wild pigs that have been able to stay away from traps.

“We’re using drones with forward-looking infrared radar to find feral hogs,” Salveter said. “The lone boars out there may be getting smart to our traps, but we have become smarter, too. Our tools are improving, and the technology is vastly improving our ability to detect and target these animals.”

Wildlife researchers do not expect feral hogs to go away completely in Missouri, in part because of their continued proliferation in the nearby states of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.

But Salveter said the problem is becoming close to manageable.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we’ve turned a corner,” Salveter said.

Currently there are 38 people in Missouri whose full-time job is the elimination of feral hogs.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.