The USDA is accepting applications from partners who will help farmers and other landowners trap and control wild pigs
By Jackie Clark
The USDA is accepting applications for partners to help farmers and other landowners with feral swine trapping as part of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (FSCP).
“USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making $12 million available and will accept applications through November 5, 2020, in eight priority states during its second round of project funding,” said a Sept. 21 release.
The FSCP is a joint pilot run by NRCS and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
“APHIS has had a feral swine program since 2014 and, even prior to that, did feral swine work,” Dale Nolte, program manager for the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program, told Farms.com.
The FSCP was included in the 2018 Farm Bill to “provide additional resources to develop these large-scale projects. But we’re treating them very much like projects under the original plan, where Wildlife Services take the money available and go in and eliminate feral swine.”
Funding from the program will support this direct removal by Wildlife Services through APHIS, restoration efforts by NRCS, and as well as grants to non-federal, not-for-profit partners to assist producers in the control of feral swine on their land.
Anywhere from six to nine million feral swine are present in the United States, experts estimate. At one point, they were present in over 40 states, Nolte said. However, some states have successfully eliminated populations.
The location and numbers of feral swine are hard to track because “the movement of feral swine is not natural dispersal. Rather, it’s being driven by humans,” he explained. “Any place is vulnerable to having populations emerge suddenly. … It’s almost impossible to predict where that might happen.”
Feral pigs cause major disruptions to the agricultural industry and the environment.
“They prey on livestock, and tear up fences and infrastructure,” Nolte said.
“We’re still trying to get a handle on what feral swine impacts are to natural resources,” he added. However, experts have observed feral swine destroying habitats, causing erosion and siltation, and weakening levies.
Officials “estimate about $2 billion worth of damage (is done by) feral swine in the U.S.,” Martin Lowenfish, the conservation initiatives coordinator for NRCS, told Farms.com. “The primary concern has been actual crop damage, and biosecurity is certainly an issue, especially for smaller operations.”
Smaller, outdoor pig production is vulnerable, whereas “most of our big swine facilities have security that keeps feral swine out,” he explained. However, “you really don’t want animals on the outside that have diseases that the U.S. spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars eradicating.”
Trichinosis and pseudorabies are a few examples, he added. “Feral swine carry all of it, so it’s just a constant risk.”
Uncontrolled feral swine populations would also increase the severity of any potential foreign animal disease outbreaks in the United States.
“if (a disease) gets into wildlife species like feral swine, it’d be that much harder to eradicate,” Nolte said.
Wild pigs are “extremely adaptable and intelligent,” he explained. Removal efforts must be strategic and try to eliminate most individuals from an area at once.
NRCS works with APHIS to determine what areas are priorities and lead representatives from both organizations in each state “work with the State Technical Committee to identify pilot projects that might get put out to bid for this program,” Nolte said.
Stakeholders from government and industry participate in the State Technical Committees.
“This really is a pilot to look at how we can effectively address the issue of feral swine. … We’re hoping to learn a lot,” Lowenfish said. “We rely on APHIS for the technical expertise and, with the pilots, we’re looking for ways to figure out what success looks like.”
From the first round of funding, “we have 20 projects that are ongoing, and each one is a little bit different,” Lacey Williamson, a natural resource specialist with NRCS, told Farms.com. Each state can customize its funding to fit its priorities.
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