At a recent meeting of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Sen. Tommy Tuberville said he was surprised that “in the more than an hour we have been here, none of my colleagues has mentioned feral hogs. When I meet with farmers in Alabama, that often comes up first as a problem for us to handle.”
Given how there are millions of feral hogs rampaging through farms in 35 states, it is indeed a surprise that it has not had a greater focus in the Agriculture Committee. With a large rural presence, Alabama citizens understand the destructive power of feral hogs.
“In nearly every county in Alabama, it is possible to catch wild pigs and feral swine, also known as feral hogs,” reports our state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. “It is legal for hunters to kill as many animals as they want. Hunting feral pigs with a firearm, bow, spear or dog is permitted.”
In advertising, most pigs are depicted as friendly and not hazards — for instance, the mascot for the supermarket chain Piggly Wiggly, or Madame Oink, once a star at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. The latter spoke in a strong French accent and sang traditional French songs; Oink was a star from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. But a feral pig — a domestic pig that has escaped or been released into the wild — is dangerous. If you are near one, don’t try to take a selfie with it.
“A certain group of wild boars is called razorbacks because of their high, hair-covered backbone and ill-mannered temper,” explains the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The razorback hog was considered ruthless and dangerous when backed into a corner. Domestic swine arrived in Arkansas with the first settlers. Today, feral hogs are present in more than 50 of the 75 Arkansas counties.”
University of Arkansas’s football team is called the Razorbacks for the ferocity the team strives for in contests. Tuberville was born and raised in Camden, Arkansas. He graduated from Southern Arkansas University, where he was a safety for the Muleriders. He also played for two years on the golf team. In 2008, Tuberville was inducted into the Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
In the first farm bill hearing on Feb. 2, Tuberville brought up two other issues that may present trouble for people in agriculture.
“Our nurseries face the emerging threat of the box tree moth, a serious pest of boxwoods that have begun to spread into the U.S. from Canada,” the senator said. “Boxwoods are the No. 1 evergreen shrub crop growth in the U.S. and very important to our state.”
But there is good news: The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has started to have movement control to contain the pest where it is and then eradicate it. Another problem for Alabama is that cogon grass, an invasive perennial weed, covers more than 200,000 acres. Some 75% is infested land in Alabama’s forests. The weed damages crops and cuts into forest productivity.
Yet it remains, the feral hogs are worth eradicating because of the estimated $2.5 billion in damages they do to U.S. in crops, pastures, livestock and forests each year. In Florida, for instance, feral swine may be connected to the decline of the Florida panther, which preys on the pigs and can catch an often fatal disease called pseudorabies.
In the National Geographic article “Hogs are running wild in the U.S. — and spreading disease,” Jason Bittel writes that “swine can carry a litany of pathogens that could potentially spread to people such as leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis, brucellosis, swine influenza, salmonella, hepatitis and pathogenic E. coli.”
“Swine, in general, are considered a mixing vessel species, because they’re susceptible to human viruses, like influenza viruses,” said Vienna Brown, a USDA staff biologist with the agency’s National Feral Swine Damage Management Program. “And when those get into swine,” she said, they could “create a novel influenza virus.”
So, the Agriculture Committee must secure sufficient funds and the will to take the feral hogs issue as seriously as Tuberville does. Or, at least as seriously as the farmers who keep Alabama afloat. Attempts will probably be made to move these feral hogs to a safer place for them. But in the end, some may end up killed, but at least they will go to hog heaven.
Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books. email@example.com.