We have, here, spent some time discussing public land in the United States. This is for good reason. Public land is explicitly under attack by the Republican Party Platform, and wild places are at the center of numerous land use bills currently circulating through Congress. One need not look past the recent decimation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to see how effective extractive industry has been in dismantling America’s Best Idea.
Right now two bills in particular are fracturing the western conservation community – one allowing bicycles in designated Wilderness, the other closing the books on decades old wilderness study areas. This has, perhaps by design (<—conspiracy theory), caused some dissonance between conservationists who ride bikes and conservationists who don’t ride bikes, and is generally occupying a lot of peoples’ time and energy. Generally speaking this is good stuff for us to be thinking about, and we are fortunate to have the wild places to fight over in the first place. (Although I do think it would be much more productive if we all just stopped yelling for a minute).
But then there’s one threat to public land that folks don’t really seem to be talking about that much, and which may deserve some yelling. WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING ABOUT FERAL PIGS?
Seriously guys this shit is real. You know them as bacon, probably, or maybe “the thing that got Robert Baratheon”. Fans of their earlier work may remember that scene from Snatch. But the thing is, feral boars are a real thing, they’re coming, and before we dig too deep, there’s a few things you should know about them.
- These fuckers are the size of Marshawn Lynch
- They begin breeding at 6 months old, can have 12 piglets per litter, and two litters per year
- Boars can each impregnate about 10 sows per year
- Feral hogs can occupy essentially any habitat on earth, tolerate harsh winters, and happily thrive at 15,000′ above sea level
- They are voracious omnivores and will delightedly out-compete every species of charismatic megafauna you hold dear
- While you hunt the boars, the boars hunt you
Wild pigs present a clear and growing danger to all of the fancy endangered species, across all types of habitat. Sage Grouse, Grizzly Bears, and Lynx are all at risk for further competition and depredation, as well as the animals that people actually care about: elk. In fact the only wildlife that really stand to gain by an influx of feral swine are mountain lions and wolves.
Of course feral hogs also thrive on wild flora and agricultural crops, by tilling the earth with their tusks for plant roots or tearing bark from trees. They are indiscriminate eaters, and ruin landscapes. The US currently spends $1.5 billion annually on pig control and crop replacement, and in Japan agricultural depredation once got so bad that more than 3,000 people starved to death during what’s now known as the “Wild Boar Famine.” And this is all, of course, to say nothing of their prominence as vectors for human-communicable disease, deadly aggression, adaptability to suburban and urban environments, and ready habituation to human presence.
Basically feral hogs are kind of a bummer.
Which is why the next part is so spooky: Hogs are present in 44 states and expanding their range by about 8 miles per year. Without intervention, they will be in every county in the US by 2060. Pigs are coming, and they are going to fuck shit up. Right now the most remote, wildest landscapes in the lower 48 are in Montana and Wyoming, two of the last bastions without pig sightings. Once the boars arrive, they will be changed forever.
Do you think those docile elk in West Yellowstone are weird? Just love the Jeremiah Johnson fantasy of riding your horse through the Bob Marshall? Annoyed when squirrels eat your bird feeder? You haven’t seen anything yet (btw there are pigs in Oregon, Idaho, and North Dakota).
“Sure they’re bad,” you say. “But whatever can we do?” I’m glad you asked. Really the big thing is to STOP DRIVING THEM AROUND TO INTRODUCE TO NEW PLACES SO THAT YOU CAN PLAY GI JOE AND HUNT THEM FROM A HELICOPTER WITH NIGHT VISION. Short of that you can usually hunt them*, and pig roasts are delicious (Columbus introduced them in the West Indies so that future expeditions would have food security).
At the very least we should acknowledge that this is kind of a big deal that we’re not talking about at all. We’ve seen a few studies, a headline every year or two, and that’s really it. So let’s get it together, and maybe take a breather from bickering like Khaleesi and the Lannisters. The boars are coming. It’s real.
*And they’re mostly nocturnal, so you may want night vision. And they do move around a bit so if you have a line on a helicopter I guess it wouldn’t hurt.