Feral pigs scattered in New Mexico as removal continues in rural areas - Albuquerque Journal

Feral pigs scattered in New Mexico as removal continues in rural areas

About 1,620 invasive feral hogs were removed from New Mexico in the five years since eradication began.

The pigs can grow to more than 1,000 pounds.

They can be as long as six feet.

Not native to New Mexico, the hogs are believed to have been first brought over from Europe in the 1500s when explorers were setting up future food sources in what was a desolate, untamed wilderness.

In the 1970s and 80s, regulations were increased on commercial hog raising and many simply let their domesticated pigs go.

Hogs were used in game hunting for the past 20 to 30 years.

Today, many consider them a pest. The hogs spread diseases, destroy wildlife and damage agriculture.

Nationally, the pigs cause up to $1.5 billion in damages, USDA records show, with $800 million due to direct damage to agriculture.

They are easily mistaken for the native javelina, but can be distinguished by their larger frames and longer hair.

“They’re just mean animals,” said Woods Houghton, Eddy County agriculture extension agent with New Mexico State University. “They can sure eat up a freshly planted field easily. They get everything you planted. It’s unbelievable what they can do to an alfalfa field.”

To eradicate the pigs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service embarked on a five-year eradication program in 2012.

With time running out, USDA District Supervisor for Wildlife Services Brian Archuleta said the efforts will continue until September 2018.

Then, the department will need to add funding to continue to fight the pest if needed.

The project started out with an annual budget of $1 million, but today, funding has dropped to about $400,000 per year.

“We need to do more eradication efforts,” Archuleta said. “We’re trying to find these little needles in a haystack. They are scattered.”

While the biggest population of the pigs was wiped out, Archuleta said sightings have continued and the USDA is working in 10 counties across New Mexico, including Eddy and Lea counties.

When the project started, efforts took place in 17 counties.

About 125 were removed from Eddy County, he said, mostly along the Pecos and Delaware rivers and at the county line between Eddy and Lea.

About 100 pigs were removed from Lea County, he said.

Eradication is ongoing in both southeastern counties.

About 200-300 more were found at Brantley Lake by the U.S. Game and Fish Service.

Some were even found in higher elevation areas in Otero County.

The pigs usually congregate around water sources, Archuleta said, but can have a home range anywhere from 10 to 200 square miles.

“We’ve gotten rid of the biggest population of the pigs statewide,” Archuleta said. “A big help has been hunters and local residents.”

USDA workers travel around the state reviewing camera footage of areas suspected to hold the hogs.

Meanwhile, any locals or landowners who spot a hog are asked to contact the USDA or the Eddy County Extension Office to report a sighting.

Once an area is identified for housing the pests, USDA agents take to their helicopters to gun down the invasive hogs in their assumed habitat.

Seventy percent of the pigs taken were killed by helicopter, which can cost about 1,000 per hour to fly.

Samples are taken from the carcasses, in hopes of finding new areas where the pigs have taken over.

“A lot of people mistake javelinas for feral hogs, but we’ll always check it out,” he said. “You never know if someone found a little pocket of pigs. We don’t just go flying around. We got specific areas. We’re systematically covering a broad area.”

About 20 different government agencies at the federal, state and local levels assisted in the program, Archuleta said, along with Native American officials and governing bodies.

But the sightings continue.

The pigs breed all year. They are ready to give birth at just four or five months old, and produce litters of three to 18 piglets.

“The exponential population growth is a real possibility,” Archuleta said.

Even worse, a domesticated pig released into the wild will develop feral behaviors in mere months, he said, quickly catching diseases such as swine flu or swine fever and spreading them to livestock and other animals.

“They’re smart, they’re intelligent and aggressive. They have a strong will to survive. They eat so much, and they eat everything,” Archuleta said.

Before hunting for the pigs on private land, the USDA needs landowner approval.

But some landowners refused, Archuleta said, opting to hunt the pigs themselves for sport.

“Most pig hunters will hunt for a day or two,” he said. “We’re hunting pigs six or seven days a week. That’s what we do. We’re putting in more effort. Those hunters just want to shoot a pig or two. We are here to totally eradicated all pigs in New Mexico.”

Public education is an important tool to achieve that goal, Houghton said.

He said the extension office has met with several area ranchers and concerned citizens to instruct locals how to spot and report the pest.

They’re not afraid of people, Houghton said, and can kill and eat calves.

He said he’s even heard complaints about the pigs chewing through water piping.

“There have been people almost killed by them,” Houghton said. “We’ve been working on this for years. Everyone agrees they want to eradicate it, and I think they’ve done a good job.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


©2017 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.)

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