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Wild hog issue growing

Charles Kalinowski with one of the wild hogs he shot on his Tunkannock farm. This month several state and federal agencies began studying the impacts and distribution of feral hogs in Pennsylvania.

Times Leader Staff Photo/S. John Wilkin

Charles Kalinowski Jr. has farmed the hills of his Tunkhannock Township, Wyoming County farm for most of his 60 years. He knows the signs when wildlife raid his fields, and he can usually link the damage to the culprit, whether it is woodchucks or deer.

But six years ago Kalinowski came across something in his field that left him puzzled.

“It looked like something went through with a set of plows,” he said. “The ground was rooted up all over the place.”

Kalinowski knew that deer, woodchucks, turkey and the other usual suspects weren’t capable of inflicting such severe damage to his fields. It was unlike anything he had ever seen, and so was the culprit.

Several packs of wild hogs moved onto Kalinowski’s farm after they escaped from a nearby hunting club. The club imported them from Georgia, and for the next few years they made Kalinowski’s farm their home.

Kalinowski and his family shot nine of the wild hogs over the next three years. They ranged in size from 15 to 350 pounds.

“When we got the first one several years ago, I called several agencies and nobody wanted to hear it,” he said. “

Today there are plenty of listeners.

This month a team from the Wildlife Services Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service began collecting feral hogs in three areas of the state by trapping and shooting, and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture technicians will remove blood and tissue samples from the animals to be tested for infectious diseases.

The effort is being funded by $60,000 in grants from the USDA and the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council, who want to gauge the seriousness of the state’s wild hog issue. The project comes on the heels of a Pennsylvania Game Commission report documenting wild hogs living in 11 counties – and breeding in at least two of those – along with past evidence that they existed in four other counties, the state is at a crossroads with feral pigs, according to Dave Wolfgang, extension veterinarian in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. The PGC report lists Bradford, Carbon, Wayne and Wyoming as northeast counties with confirmed or reported sightings.

“We have been concerned for some time about the situation surrounding feral pigs in Pennsylvania,” he said. “There is clear evidence that their population is growing, and if something is not done soon, we could have a situation similar to the one in Southern states, where habitat destruction by wild hogs is a huge problem.”

According to Kalinowski, the hogs are the ultimate wild earth movers. The ones he shot were equipped with four-inch tusks and broad, powerful front shoulders enabling them to move heaps of ground in search of grubs. They are also the ultimate survivalists, he said.

“They’re nocturnal and a smart, smart, smart animal,” Kalinowski said. “My nephew shot a 350 pounder that we tracked in the snow for more than a day. It kept circling us. He shot it with a 25-06 from 25 yards away, and the bullet never even passed through the animal.”

PGC officials have encouraged those encountering the wild hogs to shoot them whenever they can because of the destruction they cause.

Chip Sorber of Noxen has seen the damage the hogs cause and he would be glad to help eliminate them from the Pennsylvania landscape.

Sorber, who is retired, spends almost every day hunting or hiking the woods in Wyoming and Bradford counties.

He hasn’t seen any hogs to pull the trigger on, but he has seen their impact on the earth.

“A couple years ago we were turkey hunting on state game lands 219 in Bradford County. We came across a wide area in the woods that was really dug up a couple inches deep,” Sorber said.

“I don’t think they’re a good thing and I’ll shoot any one I see in the woods.”

The game commission has documented sightings of feral hogs in the northeast dating back to 1995.

The agency’s feral hog report outlines numerous concerns that make the case against allowing the wild swine population to increase:

Hogs killing wild turkeys and destroying their nest sites may be a growing problem.

Four swine chased a woman on a golf cart in Carbon County in 2004.

In Pennsylvania, there are currently no regulations regarding the escape/release of feral swine. The Pennsylvania Domestic Animal Act does provide the ability to create such a regulation.

Creating regulations on fencing requirements for feral swine in captivity in hunting preserves may help prevent escapes.

The Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture know about many, but not all, of the shooting preserves with wild boars in Pennsylvania.

One recommendation to prevent further problems is to require all shooting preserves to have a permit. This permit would only allow the importation of disease-free feral swine and also require health testing of all shooting preserve mortalities.

Regulations should also be established making the escape/release of feral swine illegal and to regulate the housing and fencing requirements for maintaining feral swine in captivity.

“In Texas, for example, damages caused by wild hogs run in the millions of dollars annually, and USDA has had to resort to aerial gunning to control the population,” Wolfgang said. “What we don’t need is another invasive species destroying habitat that our native wildlife needs and depends on. Feral hogs present danger to both Pennsylvania wildlife and livestock.”

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