Wild hogs ravage field near Berlin

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wild hogs have eaten a quarter of a farmer's crops on the Marshall-Maury county line three miles north of Berlin where he says they're "pretty much" like wolves to a sheep herder.

"They showed up about two years ago," said Tom Tindell who's trapped nearly a dozen of the animals. "They will destroy crops... anything in their path. You never will get it under control. The best you can do is keep them at bay."

Once trapped, the hogs are killed.

Rick Skillington, the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Agent for Marshall County, agrees.

"They root. They will eat small animals. They tear up pastures. They will start down a crop row and eat all the grain or the small plants, either one," Skillington said.

Tindell grows corn, soybeans and wheat. And he has cattle on about 300 acres.

"Last year, just to throw out a figure, probably $10-15,000" was his crop loss, Tindell said. That's about 25 percent of the value of the crops he'd able to harvest and sell at market, so his household income is down by a quarter. "Oh, yeah. Every bit of it."

Skillington says the hogs are dangerous to people and hunters, anybody in the woods.

"They're vicious animals," the UT agent said. "They're going to be hungry because like any wild animal, there's going to be a limited amount of food for them" as the hogs' population increases.

"There's quite a bit of it out there," now, he continued, "but corn standing in the field, they'll ride the stalks down and eat the ears off them."

Wild hogs are animals to be addressed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. UT isn't going to issue a warning.

"But the TWRA has recently relaxed its regulations in order to let the landowners harvest these animals to control them," Skillington said.

Previously, the hogs were not a controlled game, meaning they could be shot at any time. The hogs were classified for open season hunting with frogs, coyote, armadillo, ground hogs, starlings and English sparrows.

"They changed the law in Tennessee to where you can't hunt the hogs, or possess them," said TWRA Officer Doug Lowery.

Another aspect of the law makes hogs different from other animals.

"If a landowner finds them on his property, he can get a free permit from the TWRA if he can show damage," Lowery said.

Once that's established, the permit allows 10 named people to hunt and kill the hogs on the property owner's land, he said.

Other states had open season on hogs, but Lowery said, "They can't kill them fast enough. It's a mess either way you go."

Wild hogs were brought from Europe for sport hunting in East Tennessee and there are a variety of hog hunt guides offering their services through the Internet in several other states.

However, Texas, Florida and Alabama have laws that Tennessee used as models that changed wild hogs from a game animal into a nuisance animal targeted for eradication.

Mark Ventura, the TWRA agent serving Maury County, has helped Tindell deal with the wild hogs.

"They've been trying to eradicate them for years, but I don't think that anybody knows how," Lowery said.

But the animals haven't been in Marshall County for years.

"Last year was the first time we started getting reports up in the Berlin area," Lowery said. There have been reports of wild hogs here in recent months.

Why here?

"I think somebody turned them loose," he replied. "Somebody wants to hunt them... Anybody who has information about this, please let us know."

Skillington agrees that it seems as though hogs have been brought here, too.

"If they were just moving in here, they wouldn't be in isolated pockets," he said.

Meanwhile, the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area has been closed to the public because of a hog-related problem. A TWRA officer said nails, spikes and nail board have been found to sabotage motorists in the park and it appears to the officials that it may be a result of hunters angry about changes to the state law that closed the open hunting season on hogs. The suspicion is rooted in the discovery of sabotaged roads near hog traps.

Skillington said "Those are not true hunters (trappers) They're trapping the hogs to get rid of them. The people doing the sabotage are just thugs. They're just, in my opinion, the same as the people who drive down the road and shoot the road signs."

As for the wild hogs here, "We don't need them to get a toehold in here. They'll be worse than fire ants. Each sow could have 3-4 litters with possibly 8-10 piglets each."