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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Feral hogs wreak havoc on Florida’s natural areas but a new University of Florida study shows that control measures often fail; now, researchers are investigating how the animals outwit removal efforts.
“Feral hogs are definitely one of our more noticeable invasive animal issues on the Treasure Coast,” said Ken Gioeli, a St. Lucie County extension agent. “People have been struggling to deal with the populations and we want to offer them better options.”
The study appears in the summer issue of the journal Aquatics, a publication of the Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society.
Florida has the nation’s second-highest population of feral hogs, after Texas. The animals are especially common north and west of Lake Okeechobee, and in the coastal Big Bend area, Gioeli said. They roam in groups and damage forest ecosystems by rooting in the soil and wallowing in shallow water. It’s believed that feral hog damage costs landowners and agricultural producers millions of dollars nationwide.
In the study, researchers surveyed almost 90 land managers who dealt with feral hogs, most of them working on large tracts of public land. Forty-seven percent said that their hog control efforts were marginally effective. Another 25 percent said control efforts had no effect.
Some of the most popular removal methods include hunting, with or without dogs, and trapping, using either small single-hog traps or larger traps capable of holding an entire group.
A second study, now under way, surveys hunters and trappers who remove feral hogs and seeks to pinpoint reasons their efforts succeed or fail. The survey is available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2M7X3C3
Previous research suggests that large corral-style traps are the most effective way to remove groups of hogs but few land managers use them due to their size, Gioeli said.
Constructed from a heavy wood or metal frame, corral traps must be baited and left open for several days to attract hogs. Once the animals are accustomed to visiting the corral for food, the user can activate the trap so that hogs are free to enter but unable to escape.
“The traps are very large and it can be difficult to transport them to the site,” Gioeli said. “There are also some types of terrain where you can’t use a corral trap.”
Ultimately, each hog removal effort must be tailored to the site and the situation, he said. The concept is called adaptive management and it means taking whatever steps are necessary, within the boundaries of the law, to remove hogs.
Researcher Joanna Huffman, a hunter and a graduate of the UF/IFAS Master Naturalist program, said the study results underscore a fundamental rule about feral hog management: Feral hogs are smart.
“If they’ve seen a trap, they remember it,” said Huffman, who’s gone on hog hunts and also assisted in maintaining traps to remove feral hogs from her neighborhood.
Gioeli explained that hogs can communicate with each other, so if one hog associates an area with danger, it can warn others to stay away.
“That’s why it’s important to try to do it right the first time,” he said.
To give landowners and residents a better chance at success, Gioeli and several colleagues have been presenting management workshops. They plan to incorporate new information as it’s obtained.
One other piece of advice: Check state and local regulations before attempting to remove feral hogs from any property. Though the animals are generally considered a nuisance, different jurisdictions have different policies regarding the use of firearms, dogs, motor vehicles, and other items used to remove the animals.
For more information, visit http://taylor.ifas.ufl.edu/marine_game_hog.shtml
Writer: Tom Nordlie, 352-273-3567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Ken Gioeli, 772-216-1000, email@example.com
Feral hogs lounge in a field while piglets root nearby, in this UF/IFAS file photo. Florida has more feral hogs than any U.S. state besides Texas, and UF/IFAS facilty have determined that many efforts to remove the animals from property are unsuccessful. Photo by William Giuliano, UF/IFAS