Down East 2013 ©
Maine has some bad neighbors. They are hairy, roll around in their own filth, weigh between one hundred and two hundred pounds, grunt provokingly, and might be intent on digging up our crops. We mean the estimated five hundred feral pigs roaming the Granite State, snorting right at Maine’s doorstep, threatening to invade. Although they haven’t extended beyond the land of Live Free or Die, were they to cross the border into Maine, John Mayer, author of Wild Pigs in the United States: Their History, Comparative Morphology, and Current Status, has a piece of advice: “Take it very seriously.”
There have been ten confirmed sightings of feral hogs in New Hampshire in the past three years — likely all escapees from Corbin Park, a 24,000-acre fenced hunting preserve. “They are very clever though, and are quick to reproduce,” Mayer says. “To keep their numbers in check, you have to kill 50 to 70 percent of the population every year.” Although a total of five hundred may be small compared to the two million hogs roaming Texas, Mayer says action must be taken early. “They’re secretive and can be growing quietly in the woods. The problem is that once they start making themselves visible in public, it’s probably already too late — they’ve established themselves.”
Mayer says wild pigs are known as the most invasive and destructive large mammals in the United States, and are among the one hundred worst invasive species from around the world. They cause a countrywide economic loss of $1.5 billion annually due to their destruction of agricultural and environmental resources and have wreaked special havoc in the states of Texas and South Carolina. Researchers have said there is nothing that feral pigs will not eat and nothing they do not relish. With a stable population in New Hampshire, there is little to suggest they couldn’t extend their presence into Maine.
The biggest impact would be on the agricultural sector, where a hog’s aggressive rooting has been compared to that of a rototiller. But feral swine are also known disease carriers and could be uniquely troublesome for Maine’s forests. Wild pigs can destroy young pine trees at a rate of six per minute and up to one thousand per day. (Imagine the feast awaiting them in the Maine North Woods.)
Fortunately, there is no evidence that feral pigs have crossed over the border and established themselves, although there have been sightings. “We are aware of ones that escaped from commercial shooting ranges in Maine,” says John Pratte, the wildlife management section supervisor at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “But none that we know have survived the winter.” That’s a relief, we suppose. But as Mayer posits — once we know they are here, it may be too late. —Will Bleakley
Photo by David Dohnal/Shutterstock.com