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A Case for A Bounty on Wild Hogs

Bounty systems have a bad reputation. Historically, they were associated with misguided predator control programs that overlooked the important ecological roles of foxes, coyotes, hawks and other carnivores. Many such programs were poorly administered and cases of fraudulent bounty collections were common.

But a bounty on wild hogs in Michigan has merit. The target would not be a misunderstood predator, but rather, an exotic species that could devastate Michigan's forest, wetlands, crops and livestock. Further, we can design a system, administered perhaps by County Conservation Districts or other local entities, which would avoid many of the past pitfalls.

Wild hogs, many descendants of pure Eurasian wild board, have been escaping from commercial game ranches in Michigan for a decade or more, and have now been confirmed in at least 63 of Michigan's 83 counties. Most are in bands of fewer than 20 animals, but wild hogs have dispersed many miles from the game ranches and are reproducing. They are already causing crop and forest damage, and pseudorabies virus was found in free-roaming wild hogs shot in Saginaw County. That prompted quarantines of game ranches, as pseudorabies is a huge threat to Michigan's domestic swine industry. (See related articles in 2008 issues of The Wildlife Volunteer.)

Officials in other states have emphasized that we must act now or our narrow window of opportunity will be gone. With wild hogs capable of producing multiple litters of 3-12 per year, even a few months of delay in implementing an effective control program is detrimental. We have been told, repeatedly, by the experts to pull out all the stops. So, what are our options?

Clearly, we can't wait for government to eliminate the wild hogs. The agencies charged with taking the lead on hog control—the Michigan Department of Agriculture and (secondarily) the DNR—may eventually slow or even halt additional escapes of hogs from game ranches and other fenced areas but they will not be effective against hogs already roaming loose on private as well as public lands. Dr. John Mayer, the country's foremost expert on wild hogs, thinks Michigan might already have 3,000 5,000 wild hogs and the habitat to support a huge population. A multi-front assault that involves citizens is desperately needed.

Sport hunting has not controlled hogs in other states, and by itself, sport hunting will be ineffective in Michigan. In other states, bounty systems were not tried until the hog populations got out of control. The systems (predictably) ran out of money before the hog numbers were reduced substantially. But there is no question that bounties in other states led to more hogs being shot, and therein lies some hope for Michigan. Since the wild hog population is still at a somewhat low level, a carefully-crafted bounty system could be cost-effective. If for example, the state now has a total population of 5,000 wild hogs and a $100 per animal bounty was offered, it would not cost much over $500,000 even if the bounty systems eradicated every hog. Next year, state officials plan to spend at least $1 million just for hog disease testing and other activities mostly at the game ranches and other facilities from which the animals are escaping. And we're just starting to count the economic costs of hog damage to farmer's crops and forests in Michigan. So, an effective bounty system would by comparison be a cost-effective bargain.

Is a bounty on wild hogs a sure-fire solution? No, but it is the best tool available in Michigan's current situation. We need citizens to shoot wild hogs at every opportunity and a bounty system would draw attention to that need and provide motivation. This would not be "another coyote bounty" but a bold attempt to save Michigan's citizens a lot of grief from an exotic species the likes of which we have never experienced here. We can't afford not to try.

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