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Posted on Aug 16, 2016

Feral swine move into wildlife area: Pigs may threaten nearby agricultural operations

EPHRATA — Feral pigs have taken up residence in part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, but if state and federal officials have their way, their stay will be short-lived.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on July 29 closed about 1,300 acres of the area’s Desert Unit so that U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters can set out bait and then shoot them from a helicopter. They expect to keep the area closed for about a month.
Feral swine are just like the pigs found on a farm, only they became wild as the descendants of domesticated animals that either escaped or were purposely released.
The USDA considers them an invasive species that can destroy fences, fields, wetlands and other wildlife habitat. They can also transmit diseases to livestock and people, and cause an estimated $1.5 billion a year in environmental damage nationwide.
The wild pigs in the wildlife area west of the Potholes Reservoir were first seen and reported last July, said Matt Monda, regional wildlife manager for state Fish and Wildlife.
A Wildlife officer later shot a pregnant sow, and since then, the off-duty Wildlife officers have killed three more. But people continue to find evidence they’re still around, including photos taken by remote cameras, Monda said.
He had no estimates of how many may be out there, but said multiple pigs have been seen.
Monda said it’s not that unusual — new discoveries of feral pigs crop up every few years in different locations around the state.
“Pigs can do just fine out there — almost too fine,” he said. “There can be a real problem if they get established.”
He said in addition to the potential damage to the wildlife area, the threat to surrounding agricultural operations is significant. “It’s potentially a multi-million dollar hit to agriculture,” he said.
There are no regulations about hunting them, he said, so hunting has been allowed. But anyone who kills one could be liable if they mistakenly killed a farmer’s pig that just escaped.
Monda added that hunting them this time of year would be very difficult, due to the high temperatures, dense vegetation and vast area where they roam. “There might only be one out there right now,” he said, adding, “We’re looking for a needle in a haystack.”
He said August is one of the least popular times for the Desert Unit, so officials decided to hunt the feral pigs now. The agency will post signs to mark the closed area, and expects to reopen it on Sept. 1, for the beginning of early hunting seasons.
If the USDA team is successful, it plans to take hair samples for DNA analysis to help determine the origin of these pigs.
“It’s reasonable to think some pigs just got out,” he said, “But there’s a lot of interest in people hunting wild pigs — they do it all over the south — so there are fears they were intentionally released,” he said. He said because of the problems nationwide with feral pigs, it’s against USDA rules to have free-ranging swine.

K.C. Mehaffey, The Wenatchee World

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