From: The Augusta Chronicle
Pavey: New toxicant could help control feral hogs
By Rob Pavey
One of the newest tools under development in the war against feral hogs involves a primary preservative used in bacon, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
The compound – sodium nitrite – is used successfully in Australia and New Zealand to kill feral pigs and may eventually be deployed in the U.S.
“Basically it’s giving a salt overdose to pigs,” said Matthew Ondovchik, Georgia’s feral swine coordinator with the USDA’s Wildlife Services program. “And so far, the trials have been favorable.”
Ondovchik spoke last week during a Feral Hog Management workshop in Waynesboro, Ga., that attracted about 65 farmers, landowners and outdoorsmen eager for solutions to costly pig damage.
Authorizing the use of a toxicant like sodium nitrite will depend on whether a suitable bait can be created to deliver a lethal dose to feral hogs without harming other creatures, he said, noting that hogs respond differently to the compound than other livestock and wildlife species.
If ultimately approved, it would be for limited – and registered – use. “You can’t drop by and pick up a sack of pig killer at the feed store,” he said.
Even in a best-case scenario, using a toxicant would only suppress feral pig populations – not eliminate them.
“Is it going to be a silver bullet to solve the problem? No,” he said. “But it would be another tool in the tool box.”
There are other new efforts under way by the federal government to control feral hogs, which now have verifiable populations in at least 39 states and inflict an estimated $1.5 billion in damage each year.
New programs in Georgia are being developed with a share of a $20 million Congressional allocation made last year to battle swine infestations.
“It’s an allocation we have a share of – to assist you guys here in Georgia,” Ondovchik said, adding that studies are already under way aimed at getting more precise data about the cost of feral hog damage in specific regions.
“In the future, we need to be able to go to the legislative bodies and tell them exactly how much damage feral swine are doing to our farms – and your peanut crops,” he told the group.
Although much of the tangible economic damage involves ravaged crops, there is growing anecdotal evidence that feral hogs negatively impact wildlife, which is linked to the state’s valuable recreational hunting industry.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, peanuts, corn and cotton are the most frequent crops damaged by hogs, which – based on expanding damage estimates from survey respondents – caused more than $81 million in damage in 2011 alone.
Many landowners – 68 to 80 percent – also reported a perceived decline in deer, turkey and bobwhite quail that was attributed, at least partially, to feral hog infestations. The study noted that more research is needed to gauge the impacts of feral hogs in native species.
The initial $20 million allocation is a great start to winning the war on pigs, but will not finance new programs in all affected areas Ondovchik said.
“It was split up in different states based on a formula,” he said. “The more pigs they had, the more money they got.”
Georgia received $295,000, which is being used in a variety of ways to help create better hog control options.
“As many pigs as we have, $295,000 doesn’t go far,” he said. “But it was still a huge chunk of money for our agency and we are trying to spend it to provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of people.”
The department is offering consulting to landowners to help evaluate hog density and recommend possible solutions.
Some of the assistance is in the form of matching funds.
“If he can invest $2,000 to trap pigs, maybe we can also invest $2,000,” he said. “But you will need to continue once you start. If you let things go for six months or a year, the population keeps growing and you’re back to ground zero.”
Aerial hog control currently involves limited use of two helicopters based in the department’s East Region office in Tennessee. “We have to schedule them in one-week increments, and well in advance.”
Because hogs are unpredictable and often change feeding habits, good reconnaissance is a pre-requisite for any effective control program.
“The pigs are going to dictate what we do,” he said. “It depends on response to bait, seasonality and the land.”
Cost-share programs may or may not be a major part of the program in the future.
Ondovchik stressed that the current programs and studies are part of an effort to develop better and broader strategies in the future – and to get those strategic measures funded.
“This is still evolving,” he said. “From where we are tonight, it could be totally different this time next year.”
February’s workshop was organized by the Brier Creek Soil & Water Conservation District.