Wild hogs causing big headaches for southwest Oklahoma farmers

Sunday, February 6th 2005, 2:46 pm
By: News On 6

ALTUS, Okla. (AP) _ Wild hogs are causing some major problems for farmers in southwest Oklahoma.

Altus farmer Matt Muller remembers the good old days when he'd see a wild hog or two each year on his farm. Now, they can come 20 at a time, destroying his peanut and wheat crops, and permanently altering his land.

``When it gets bad enough, I'll have to stop growing peanuts. That's the main crop,'' Muller said. ``That's one less option I'll have.''

The pig problem has caused such a stir that state officials are using shotguns from helicopters to kill the animals.

John Steuber, wildlife director for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, said the agency also uses traps.

Steuber said wild hogs are more aggressive than farm pigs and can attack livestock. They spread diseases, mull pecan crops and rut deep into the ground, leaving it useless.

These animals are descendants of farm hogs that escaped their pens. They are leaner, with longer heads, longer hair and pronounced tusks.

The wild hogs arrived from Arkansas and Texas. For a while, they stayed in southeastern Oklahoma. Then, someone captured a group and took it to western Oklahoma, Steuber said, noting it was not a good idea.

``Now, they're just out there like deer,'' Steuber said. ``They are very difficult to fence out. They turn into a predator.

``They're expanding their range and causing such significant damage that we're becoming more involved in helping ranchers control the damage that they cause.''

Even the newest tactic of shooting the animals from the air has limitations. The helicopter gunmen can operate in only open areas. Winter generally is the best time for that, Steuber said, although snow and ice hamper the shooters.

Department employees can hunt from the air only when the landowner gives permission, Steuber said. A bill passed last year allows private citizens to obtain a permit to hunt.

Still, the hogs are multiplying. Estimates indicate thousands are in Oklahoma.

Dave Pauli, a director with the Humane Society of the United States, said less humane ways of controlling the hog population exist than shooting them, including a hog birth control. The birth control won't destroy the animal in which it is injected, and it will prevent future generations.

``Some people will scoff at that ... but I would offer that none of these controls done individually is the answer,'' Pauli said. ``It takes a broad-based approach.''

Muller just wants his land saved.

``It's unreal,'' he said. ``Their population has never trimmed down. It's going to be an uphill battle that no one's ever won.''