ATLANTA -- Wild hogs are causing millions of dollars worth of crop damage in the state each year, and a new bill in the Legislature would make it open season on them.
“You’re not going to eradicate them,” said Michael Mengak, a professor and wildlife specialist at the University of Georgia, who said it’s only possible to keep them under control.
Hogs have been in the Altamaha and Savannah river basins since at least the 1600s, Mengak said. Now the wild hogs, which often get to 100 to 150 pounds each, live in much of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and other warm, flat parts of the United States.
Many populations originate from a mix of escaped domestic pigs and the Eurasian wild boar, introduced for hunting. They can carry disease and reproduce quickly.
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“They destroy your crops, they destroy habitat for quail, deer,” said Twiggs County farmer Rocky Nobles, who farms about 2,000 acres with his nephew Jerry Newby.
Feral hogs will work a field of seedlings in as straight a line as a plow, using their snouts to uproot and eat the plants.
A group of about 15 of them can eat about 20 acres of seedlings in a night, Nobles and Newby said. That’s a field that has to be replanted at about $100 an acre.
Corn, peanuts and wheat are their favorite, Nobles said.
Nobles and Newby set traps, but the whole community is overrun.
“We are not talking about Wilbur from ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ ’’ said Dooly County Extension Agent Jay Porter. “We’re talking about an invasive species. It’s a pest to agriculture. I think of it just the same way I think of pigweed in a cotton field,” he said.
For the farmer, sportsmanlike rules of hunting don’t apply to hogs. Killing hogs belongs in the category of pest control.
In Texas, hunt guides book trips to shoot feral hogs from helicopters. In Louisiana, at least one company uses drones carrying thermal-imaging cameras to track them.
The beasts caused more than $81 million in crop damage across 41 counties in southwest Georgia in 2011, said Mengak of UGA. This year, he is conducting a follow-up survey.
State Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, who is the author of House Bill 475, called the feral hogs “the worst problem” for agriculture in the state.
The bill “pretty much does away with any restriction on shooting feral hogs,” he said.
It is already legal for landowners to shoot feral hogs at any time on their own land, but there are restrictions on seasons and weapons for hunters. Now, generally, they can only hunt with the weapons for the game that is in season, such as turkey-legal firearms during turkey season.
McCall’s bill would strike feral hogs from the list of animals that are restricted by season or hunting weapon. The bill also would make it lawful to hunt or capture feral hogs on legal hunting grounds from a vehicle and with hand-held lights. The critters are usually active at night.
“This would make the feral hogs not ‘wildlife.’ They’re a nuisance is what they are,” he said.
The bill keeps a few exceptions already familiar to hunters, such as wearing orange vests during deer firearm season, not trespassing and keeping bait away from property lines.
The state has no reliable numbers on feral hog kills because it’s not a game animal, said a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is reviewing House Bill 475 and has no comment on it at this point.
Feral hogs are such a threat to agriculture that Congress ought to do something to help farmers eradicate them on a national level, said Twiggs County’s Nobles.
“When your food price goes up in the grocery store ... that’s when they’ll do something,” he said.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.