MADISON, Wis. – Death to the pigs!
State wildlife and agriculture officials want hunters to shoot, skewer or otherwise summarily dispatch as many of the destructive, diseased porkers as possible this fall, and with plenty of prejudice.
"Shoot them on sight," implored Brad Koele, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist, in a statement to hunters this week.
Wisconsin has been battling the pigs since at least 2000. The DNR generally advises deer hunters to kill them every fall, but this year the agency and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have stepped up their campaign out of fears a pseudorabies outbreak might have been tied to wild pigs.
"We're taking advantage of the fact all the hunters are out in the woods. DNR has a ready-made force there to be looking out for them," DATCP spokeswoman Donna Gilson said.
Feral hogs roam about 25 states. They're common along the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard, but they're also found as far west as Hawaii. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the pigs cause about $800 million damage to the nation's farm industry every year.
Smaller and leaner than their pink barnyard cousins, wild hogs are covered with coarse hair and sport longer snouts and tusks. What they lack in looks they make up for in rudeness and sex drive.
When they're not rooting in the ground for food, wrecking landscapes and devastating crops, they're reproducing. Some sows bear as many as four litters a year, Gilson said.
They can carry a range of diseases, from pseudorabies to swine fevers.
Hard data on Wisconsin's pigs is scarce. DATCP doesn't have figures on how much crop damage they've caused, largely because the state's wildlife damage reimbursement fund doesn't cover crops lost to them, Gilson said.
The DNR doesn't have total population estimates statewide, either. The agency has recorded sightings in 33 of the state's 72 counties between 2000 and 2006, although all the sightings weren't verified.
The hottest spot is Crawford County, said DNR wildlife biologist Dave Matheys. He estimates about 240 pigs have been killed there since 2002, but guesses the area's population still hovers between 50 and 100.
Bill Howe of Prairie Du Chien, the Crawford County seat, is a member of the Conservation Congress, a group of sportsmen who advise the DNR. He says the pigs are working his county over.
One landowner showed him a hillside where wild hogs uprooted a tree. The hill looked like an end loader took it out, Howe said. In another instance, wild hogs took out over 100 feet of corn seed in a field.
"Nobody's happy about them," Howe said.
Landowners can kill pigs on their property, no questions asked. Hunters can go after them year round. All they need is a small game license or a bow license. And there's no bag limits.
State officials want to crank up the heat after wild pigs made the headlines this spring. Tests of two Clark County swine herds turned up pseudorabies, which USDA officials said was likely linked to exposure to wild hogs. The two farms had to be quarantined for months during testing for the disease.
With winter, the pigs' peak breeding season, just around the corner and foliage dying off and reducing cover, the time to strike is now, Gilson said.
Hunters should call their local game wardens to report kills so officials can test the carcasses for disease, she said.
State Rep. Lee Nerison, R-Westby, chairman of the Assembly Rural Affairs Committee, is working on a bill that would brand wild pigs "harmful wild animals," making them illegal to possess or release in the wild.