SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Feral hogs across the southern United States are a serious issue. The hogs which run wild across the south have become such a nuisance to farmers and property owners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has instituted a program nationwide to study the problem and where necessary reduce the numbers.
Here in West Virginia however, that program has take on a different wrinkle. Unlike most states, West Virginia has an established wild boar population in four southern counties.
“That’s why in West Virginia we wanted to get out ahead of that,” said Kevin Groves who is in charge of the feral swine program with the U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services division. “We don’t want that problem moving up here into West Virginia and to date Wildlife Services has removed over 200 feral pigs in twelve counties in West Virginia.”
There are some feral populations in the state, but the ones which are most worrisome are those in the area where the wild boar reside, mainly the drainage of Spruce Laurel Fork near the Logan/Boone/Wyoming/Raleigh County border.
“We do have some populations along the Boone, Fayette, Kanawha County line that we fear might move into that wild boar area,” said Groves in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors. “That’s a rugged area so it’s hard to say just how many are in there at this time.”
Through a cooperative partnership with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Services in the last few years has been running DNA samples on wild boar killed by hunters in southern West Virginia. So far, Groves and his team haven’t detected any signs the wild boar population in southern West Virginia has been compromised, but there are some red flags.
“We wanted to know are there any feral pigs in those four counties and we wanted to dive into the genetics of these Russian wild boar to see if their genetics has been compromised,” said Groves. “It’s going to take more study and a larger sample size, but for now it looks like most of the boar we have have not reproduced from an outside population.”
But the sampling has also shown the wild boar in West Virginia genetically are not pure blooded Eurasian wild boar. The discovery isn’t all that surprising. The wild boar in West Virginia were introduced in the 1970’s and came from an area in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. The feral hogs in West Virginia are from a number of sources according to Groves. Some have been deliberately released into the wild and others may have escaped from private, fenced hunting preserves. The transition from domesticated to feral doesn’t take long, but Groves adds there are misconceptions about that process.
“When a farm pig is released into the wild, their reproductive rate is pretty high and they are survivors. They’ll make a living and survive out in the wild,” Groves explained. “But it will take a few generations for them to adapt back into their wild state appearance wise.”
So what is the problem? Would it be so bad for the wild hog population in West Virginia to crossbreed with feral hogs, Groves said it isn’t promising for the ecosystem and for the hunting, especially in an area like West Virginia’s southern coalfields.
“The wild hogs were introduced as a hunting opportunity in the 70’s, but as we know now Logan County is a trophy buck destination. There’s plenty of bear an turkey there and it’s now an elk reintroduction zone,” said Groves. “As you have more and more hunting opportunities down there, I don’t know that having a reservoir for feral pigs down there would be the best decision.”