Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as the lead agency regarding feral swine. The Montana Department of Livestock is leading the prevention effort.
Feral swine been in the news a lot lately. While they make for an entertaining headline, wildlife managers in Montana are increasingly concerned about the damage these invasive pigs can cause to farmers, ranchers, the environment and Montana’s outdoor recreation economy.
Livestock producers from the Hi Line, weed district managers from the prairie, hunting and conservation groups and researchers from Canada converged on Billings last week to brainstorm what more can be done to keep feral swine out of Montana.
"I think you're seeing operation 'purple state' in action here, where people come from a wide variety of views but we all care greatly about the landscape and the people here," says Anne Miller, the executive director of the Montana Pork Producers Council. The Council represents hog farmers who collectively brought in $53 million in sales last year.
She says she’s eager for conference hosts Montana Invasive Species Council, the state Department of Livestock and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to solidify a working agreement with Customs and Border Protection to monitor the hogs’ advance toward Montana.
"They have some fantastic assets that they're already using and as long as we could be sure those are being used appropriately and come to an agreement, I see that as a huge advantage for us," Miller said.
Other suggestions from Friday’s Feral Swine Summit include shoring up cooperative agreements with tribal and federal lands managers, better educating the public through a recently launched “Squeal on Pigs” campaign, beefing up brand inspections much like the state has done with boat inspections and asking Canadian provinces for more disease monitoring and population control measures.
Feral swine have been spotted within five to 20 miles of the state’s northern border. Montana managers are eager to keep them at bay based on the billion dollars in annual damage to crops and property they’ve inflicted elsewhere, along with the hogs’ potential to transmit diseases to livestock and humans.
Ryan Brook, a researcher with the University of Saskatchewan, laments that the Canadian government waited to regulate swine until after wild boars imported for exotic ranching had been let go or escaped and expanded their range.
"The only way to deal with this is like a fire. you call 911 and say your kitchen's on fire. They don't say, 'Oh, your kitchen's on fire, well call me when it gets to the living room and we'll get on it.' That is not the thinking we need to apply," Brook said.
Montana outlawed hunting feral swine in 2015 to disincentivize people introducing them into the state, though license sales have boosted revenues in states with wild boar seasons like California. Brook says hunting and trapping have also proven ineffective strategies for population control because the sound of gunshots cause the pigs to disperse further, and once a hunting program is in place, hunters will work to keep pigs on the ground.
Instead Montanans are required to report any feral swine sightings to the state Department of Livestock at (406)444-2976.