By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
For the past two years, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has adjusted its regulations to try to empower landowners and lease holders in their battle against the scourge of feral hogs.
One of the reasons the feral hog population is widespread across Alabama is the illegal transportation and release of live feral swine. The law for many years reduced feral hogs to personal possession once the animals were caught, but that regulation was changed last year to take out the personal possession clause and require that all feral hogs must be killed before being transported.
“It’s always been illegal to transport feral hogs,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “However, it was impossible to prove it. The way the regulation read, once they were trapped they were reduced to personal possession. So unless one of our people saw them do it, if they were stopped going down the road, they could say, ‘No, these are my hogs.’ It was extremely difficult for our officers to make a case unless they witnessed somebody catching the hogs. Taking the personal possession language out of it would take that question out of it. Now if our officers find live feral hogs in the back of the truck, they know it’s illegal.”
Farmers are particularly susceptible to feral hog impact from the damage done to row crops, pastures and farm roads. A 2009 study conducted by Auburn University concluded that more than $74 million in damage was caused by feral hogs in Alabama.
While the damage to farm production can be somewhat assessed, feral hogs do untold damage to the habitat for much of Alabama’s wildlife. Like WFF Biologist Chris Jaworowski says, “You may have 30 pigs going through your hardwood bottom like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, sucking up all the acorns that deer, turkey and squirrels depend on. That doesn’t get mentioned enough. And you’ve got these threatened and endangered plant communities, like the pitcher plant bogs that have been destroyed by hogs. Some of those habitats will never come back.”
Because of emerging technology and efforts to reduce feral hogs by whatever methods available, new questions have been raised about what to do with the animals after they are dispatched.
“Some people would trap for landowners and to pay for their expenses, they would sell the hogs,” Sykes said. “If they had been running trail cameras and knew they had 10 hogs coming to the trap, they would set the trap on a Friday night. They would tell people, ‘Give me $20 and I’ll have you a hog on Saturday morning.’ However, if a hog is just a game animal, you can’t do that.”
To solve that problem, WFF proposed and the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board approved a change in the feral hog regulations that would also extend fur bearer status to the feral hogs. That provides the legal method for trappers to legally sell the hog carcasses.
“That gives people the leeway to trap as many as they want to,” Sykes said. “We want people to catch as many as they can. And this allows them to sell the carcasses.
“However, that does not allow people to set up a backyard market to sell bacon, pork chops and ham. If you kill a hog, you can legally sell it to somebody. But you cannot sell processed pork. That has to be inspected before it can be sold.”
Alabama State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said that he and Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan have had discussions on the state law that requires all processed pork to be officially inspected and how it applies to feral hogs.
“With feral hogs that are trapped and killed right there, we don’t have any issues with selling that hog from one person to another or giving it away,” Frazier said. “Once you start selling meat, once it’s processed meat, that can only be done under inspection. And that’s not me saying that. That’s the federal meat inspection act that
“You can’t kill a wild hog, take it to a processor and have sausage made out of it and then turn around and sell that. Once you render a wild pig captive and kill it, then you can do whatever you want to with the carcass. But you can’t part it out or process it without it going through the inspection process.”
Kevin Dodd, WFF’s Enforcement Chief, said that people who trap hogs will be required to have a fur catcher’s (trapping) license to sell feral hog carcasses.
“You don’t have to have a trapping license for feral hogs unless you’re doing it commercially for someone else,” Dodd said. “If you’re on your own land or leased land, you don’t have to have a trapping license to trap wild pigs. If you are hired by the landowner to do it, you are supposed to have a fur catcher’s license. To sell the hog carcasses, you have to have a fur catcher’s license.”
Concerning the sale of feral hog carcasses, Dodd said the change in the feral hog’s status to fur bearer will fall under the regulation that allows the sale of some fur bearer carcasses – raccoons for example.
Director Sykes and Commissioner McMillan cautioned that those who come in contact with feral hogs should handle the animals carefully to minimize the exposure to the bacteria that causes swine brucellosis, which can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
Although infections are relatively rare, swine brucellosis can be transmitted to humans if blood, fluid or tissue from an infected animal comes into contact with the eyes, nose, mouth or a skin cut. The edibility of the meat is not affected by swine brucellosis, but it should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
When field-dressing feral hogs, hunters should follow the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
1. Use clean, sharp knives for field dressing and butchering.
2. Wear eye protection and rubber or latex gloves when handling carcasses; avoid direct contact of bare skin with fluid or organs from the animal.
3. After butchering, burn or bury disposable gloves and parts of the carcass that will not be eaten.
4. Avoid feeding raw meat or other parts of the carcass to dogs.
5. Wash hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or more.
6. Dry hands with a clean cloth.
7. Clean all tools and reusable gloves with a disinfectant, such as diluted bleach.
8. Be aware that freezing, smoking, drying and pickling do not kill the bacteria that cause brucellosis.
“We want people to kill as many feral hogs as they can,” Sykes. “We just want to remind hunters that preventive measures should be standard when handling hogs.”
Sykes said the feral hog problem has not impacted the whole state, yet.
“It’s bad in certain areas,” he said. “Luckily they’re not found everywhere, but there are pockets where hog problems can be devastating. We want to give people all the tools we can to manage the problem on their property.”
PHOTOS: Although hunters in Alabama have ample opportunity to take feral swine during much of the year, the only effective way to manage wild pig populations is through intensive trapping efforts. Feral hogs cause significant damage to farm property and wildlife habitat in Alabama.