Feral pigs or boars have established a breeding population on the eastern edge of the Adirondack Park. Scientists fear the animals could spread fast, wiping out native animals and damaging crops. Brian Mann has our story.
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"Come on, hurry up!" Bob Rulf calls his dog up into the cab of his pick-up. And with his field manager, Richard Howard ridingshotgun, he heads off across his orchard in the Champlain Valley. It’s a gorgous mix of apple trees, farm fields and woods in the foothills of the Adirondacks – but Rulf and Howard are facing an invasion that has them stumped.
"When we first saw these hoof marks, we thought, It's gotta be deer. Those deer are digging the seeds out. But it wasn't deer. The guys called Richard at 3 o'clock in the morning and said, 'It's pigs!'"
These aren’t little cute pink pigs. These are big Russian boars with razor sharp tusks that weigh up to three hundred pounds. "They'll eat just about anything," Howard says. "But the main problem was over here in our corn field and they would knock it down and pull the ears all apart."
Out in the fields, Rulf and Howard meet up with Ben Tabor. He’s a wildlife technician with the Department of Environmental Conservation. Tabor says it appears that this population of feral pigs is firmly established, having weathered at least a couple of North Country winters.
"It seems like they've bred. We've had pictures of litters, at least three times. We saw some tracks of small size, insuating that there was another litter," he explained.
Feral pigs are nocturnal. They move around and forage at night. But using motion activated cameras, Tabor’s team has identified roughly three dozen of these animals.
"Somebody let them go. A few people have suggested that they're escapees from a nearby farm," he said.
The fear is that the population could expand rapidly, spreading across the region. Pigs breed fast, with populations sometimes tripling in a single year. If that happens here, Tabor says, the environmental impact on Adirondack forests could be dramatic.
"They're going to out compete other animals. They also tend to eat other animals directly. Amphibians, frogs, grouse, ground-nesting turkeys, any ground nesting birds definitely," Tabor explained.
Pigs are such efficient eaters, Tabor says, that they literally wipe out everything on the ground, leaving churned mud. "Back past those pines, it's just completely devoid of any understory. It's all rooted up."
Back in the truck, Bob Rulf and Richard Howard take me to a corner of the field where the pigs have been active. "This is what they do," Howard says, pointing to a churned up area of ground. "It looks like big foot walked through here," Rulf chimes in.
Hillary Oles heads the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, based in Keene. She says environmental groups like hers are still trying to get a grip on what a feral pig infestation might mean for the North Country.
"All indicators from elsewhere in New York state and in other states where feral pigs have been established very much indicate that it could be a real problem," she said.
Feral pigs have been spreading fast in the southern Tier of New York. Containing this outbreak won’t be easy. Pigs are incredibly smart, adaptable animals. Through the summer and fall, hunters and trappers have only killed half a dozen hogs. State biologists are hoping for more snow and cold weather, which should make food more scarce here in the Champlain Valley. That would help field crews as they use bait piles to lure and trap more of the hogs.