Feral hogs causing big problems for East Tennessee ecosystem

(Cobypix Photography)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – In East Tennessee, especially the Smoky Mountains, wildlife is a part of the culture, but there is one animal that is becoming a big problem.

Feral hogs are not native to the area and are causing a lot of damage. The hogs are not really uncommon in the area now, but about 100 years ago they were non-existent.

“They were brought into this region in 1912 as part of a private hunters preserve in the Hoopers Bald area which is just outside of the park on the North Carolina side,” said Bill Stiver, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

That facility went bankrupt. Nearly 80 hogs escaped and spread into the mountains. Now they live in about 83 of the 95 counties in Tennessee, and they are causing some big problems especially inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

(Cobypix Photography)

“The biggest being their rooting behavior. They tend to root down and destroy wetlands in particular where some of our rare plants are found. We know they eat small mammals, birds. They’re carriers of disease,” Stiver said.

For years wildlife biologists have been trapping and killing the hogs. Last year because of bad food crops, the park only removed 143 hogs, but so far this year with a good food crop, the hog population is recovering quickly. They have removed 173.

“We have policies that state if we have a non-native like that that’s a cause of major impacts then we need to do something about it,” Stiver said.

Now they are doing things a little differently by using new technology, GPS collars, to help track the pigs. Wildlife biologists hope to learn more about their movement patterns and the groups they move in so they can be more efficient with trapping and hunting.

Collars are put on the wild hogs to track their location

The tracking collar project inside the GSMNP is a joint project with Big South Fork. They have put about 25 collars on hogs which have recorded more than 76,000 locations on Google Earth, but the national park borders do not stop the hogs.

“These hogs are doing a lot of damage to the environment, the ecosystem. Farmers are having a lot of problems farming,” said Tony Hickle with TWRA Wildlife Management.

Track of pigs’ movement on Google Earth.

State wildlife officials are working similar projects as the GSMNP. TWRA has set traps baited with corn. They wait out of sight while a trail camera feeds a live picture. The cage door can be dropped with a remote control. When the hogs are trapped, most are euthanized unless they have a tracking collar on.

“The gate itself is an electronic gate. It can be dropped line of site from several hundred yards away,” Hickle said. “We’ve about run the tires off of two trucks trying to keep up with this stuff in the last few years.”

It is all a waiting game. Sometimes the hogs are too smart for the traps, but so far TWRA has trapped 12 hogs at a site in northern Knox County and many more in other areas.

“We’ve got about five different pockets of hogs that have showed up here in Knox County,” Hickle said.

Feral hogs have been found in most of the counties in TWRA’s eastern district. Since hogs can reproduce several times a year keeping their populations under control is a full time job all across the state.

“We spend all of our time, energy and money trying to eradicate them,” Stiver said.

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