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How to stop feral hogs from causing millions of dollars in damage each year

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Across this country, feral hogs are causing problems. Who knew? Wild pigs cause more than $2.5 billion in damages each year when they root up land and crops. So I guess farmers knew. Some states encourage hunting hogs, and others have come up with a surprising solution, which we're going to hear in a story that was first brought to us by Seth Bodine of member station KOSU last summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SETH BODINE: It's estimated that there are more than 6 million feral hogs across the country. And they can be huge, weighing up to 200 pounds - about the same as a Great Dane. The damage they cause can be extensive.

DYLON SCHOONOVER: It's a menace, and they don't do nothing but tear up your property.

BODINE: That's Dylon Schoonover, a hunting guide at Hog Wild Preserve in Purcell, Okla. Oklahoma's one of the states that still encourages hunting to help control the population.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

BODINE: On a rainy day, Schoonover is leading Todd Kissinger on a hunt. After zigzagging through the woods for more than an hour, they see a group of hogs, and he starts to make oinking noises to lure them closer.

SCHOONOVER: I told you there's a bunch of pigs in here.

TODD KISSINGER: Yeah.

SCHOONOVER: (Imitating pig).

BODINE: Kissinger came here from Kansas just for this hunt. As a farmer and rancher in Mulvane, Kan., he understands how damaging some wildlife can be.

KISSINGER: We have huge flocks of geese that come in on our wheat fields, and they will mow it down. I mean, they will just eat it down to the bare dirt. So I can only imagine what a bunch of hogs will do when that's what their deal is to do 24/7 - is to eat, root and tear up.

BODINE: But allowing hunting can be a double-edged sword. Dale Nolte heads the USDA's Feral Swine Program. One of the problems is that people move hogs around to different areas to incentivize hunting opportunities.

DALE NOLTE: One of the big struggles we have is this - what seems to be a constant release of animals back into areas where they've been removed or into new areas.

BODINE: In the Midwest, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska already have restrictions on hunting feral hogs. Sam Wilson with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says when you allow hunting, it's actually harder to control the population.

SAM WILSON: The law seems counterintuitive at first because we're prohibiting people from hunting feral hogs. However, if you know anything about hunting and hunting culture, often the people who hunt deer, for instance, are interested in having good deer populations.

BODINE: The 2018 Farm Bill created funds for wildlife services to address hog problem areas, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation started restricting hunting in those areas. But Eric Cowan, who works for the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (ph) in Oklahoma, says he runs into roadblocks trying to trap hogs on private land.

ERIC COWAN: We've got to have their permission, and there's a lot of people that don't - won't give us permission to work on their property.

BODINE: While states with growing wild hog populations are adding more restrictions, others like Texas and Oklahoma are still embracing the hunting of feral hogs. And hunting guides like Schoonover insist they're helping control the hogs.

SCHOONOVER: Just like a manager of a company manages the company and the employees are employees, we manage populations, you know? And, in turn, we get to eat awesome, awesome meat.

BODINE: But guys like Schoonover might have a hard time finding a place to hunt as more and more states embrace hunting bans as a way to control populations.

For NPR News, I'm Seth Bodine in Oklahoma City.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE MCEVOY AND STAN FOREBEE'S "ONTEORA LAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.