Destroying farms, golf courses, lawns – feral pigs causing $115 million in damage every year in South Carolina, and it’s only going to get worse

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — Here’s what South Carolina farmers are getting used to — plant the seeds. Wait for the wild pigs to dig it up, seed by seed, row by row. Fix the soil and replant. The pigs come back. Repeat.

And repeat. And repeat.

“If you go to some of these areas where the hogs are rooting in the fields, it looks like bombs have gone off,” said Gary Spires, director of government relations for the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.

It’s not just farms that are seeing the impact of the exponential growth of feral hogs across the state. Feral pigs destroy riverbanks, enter residential areas and begin digging up golf courses. It’s a problem that costs the state about $115 million a year – and since it’s nearly impossible to stop animal growth, it’s only going to get worse.

A threat

It’s estimated that there are at least 150,000 feral pigs in South Carolina, though experts say the numbers are hard to track.

The invasive species was introduced to the south in colonial times, potentially dating back to 1500.

Although troublesome, pigs have only become a widespread problem in South Carolina in the past two decades. Within a few years, the pigs went from having half the state to having a presence in every county.

The feral pig population almost doubled between 2003 and 2011 alone, according to data released by the South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force. Between half and three-quarters of the pigs would have to be culled each year to try to keep the population at its current level.

Statewide monitoring is “prohibitively expensive,” according to the task force. Trapping fails to control or reduce the number of pigs. Hunting, which the state relies on to solve the problem, only kills 20% to 30% of the pigs.

The number of pigs killed by hunters each year varies. According to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 28,043 feral hogs were killed by hunters in the state in 2020. Most were killed in Abbeville County, with 1,686 pigs – or 4.84 pigs per square mile.

The number of pigs harvested can vary considerably from year to year.

Pigs remained in moist, low-lying areas around river systems before their rapid expansion. Greg Yarrow, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson University, saw pigs appear in places they hadn’t gone before while studying animals in Texas in the years 1980.

“We’ve had farmers start reporting crop damage and then people start seeing them more in the landscape, so in that time frame we’ve seen a lot more reports and issues with the pigs,” Yarrow said.

The exponential range growth has been attributed to hunters transporting the wild pigs from Texas to new areas.

Once in an area, pigs can decimate farmland, endanger sensitive wetlands and spread disease. Pigs are “opportunistic omnivores” that eat everything, including plants, insects, birds and other mammals.

Yarrow, who spent more than three decades at Clemson University, has seen the pig population cause more problems over the past 15 years.

“If there were no hog hunting and no hog trapping we would see a real expansion of damage to the point where this I think would start to have a real impact on the livelihoods of farmers and even landowners to grow trees,” Yarrow said. .

Hit the farms hard

An estimate from the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation puts the damage caused by feral hogs in South Carolina at $115 million.

Pigs are particularly fond of corn and cotton and will go down a row and dig up the seeds, according to Spiers. When farmers are already facing low margins, seeing 10% of their land damaged can be devastating.

“That’s huge, and not many businesses can absorb 10% of their inventory that just disappeared,” he said.

Feral pigs can also transmit diseases to farm animals.

This doubles or triples the costs for farmers in some areas, he said. Although the problems are not new, he has seen the situation worsen on farms over the past five to ten years.

The impacts caused by pigs are worse than those of other animals, and pigs are smart enough to avoid traps and other protective measures.

“Wild hogs are more destructive to deer,” said Faith Truesdale, Pee Dee District Manager for the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.

She said residential areas were also starting to see the pigs invade.

The federation has had some success in recent years in its efforts to combat the spread. Legislation passed last year closed loopholes in laws that criminalize the transport of feral pigs. The group is also working with state and federal governments to secure funds to trap and kill hogs in some of the worst areas.

Despite this work, residents across the state will continue to feel the effects, as higher costs to farmers mean more expensive goods.

“It will be felt by the consumer,” Spiers said. “It’ll be OK.”

Impossible to eradicate

According to Jay Cantrell, wildlife biologist and deputy big game program coordinator at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the problem is complicated by the fact that a female pig can become sexually mature at six months of age and give birth to 12-14 piglets per year. ,

He said pigs are an economic and ecological threat because they compete with native species – and win.

“There’s not much endearing about them,” he said. “You can list this long list of problems they cause and what they cost, and there’s really nothing you can say about them.”

Couple that with resistance to pests and the diseases they carry, as well as the presence of few natural predators, and it’s even worse.

Cantrell remembers hearing from hunters in Hampton County who wanted to take them home to hunt. He warned him against this.

“You can’t have a few, you can’t have a handful there,” Cantrell said. “Either you have one or you’re completely overwhelmed.”

Then the same hunters came back and admitted he was right.

Cantrell said flooding temporarily helps contain populations, as does hunting. The SCDNR has tried to make hog hunting easier by allowing bait, dogs, and night hunting on private property. There is no season or bag limit.

The biggest effort the agency pursues is trapping. Pigs are smart, which can make them difficult to catch. Cantrell said the SCDNR has gone from small box-shaped traps to the Pig Brig Trap System corral.

Trapping is the most cost-effective and fastest way to care for feral pigs, according to Cantrell. There is also ongoing research into better traps. Other works focus on poisons and contraceptives, although these are tricky as it is almost impossible to keep other animals out of them.

There are programs where landowners can rent or purchase traps. Cantrell said neighbors can also pool money to buy traps to share.

Neighbors need to work together, he said, because pigs can be cleared from one property, repopulate on the next, and then come back.

Another tool is the South Carolina Feral Hog Task Force, a combination of 20 agencies trying to get attention and stop the pigs. This includes a partnership with the US Department of Agriculture.

This coordinated effort is crucial, according to Yarrow.

“On a large scale, the cats came out of the bag,” he said. “We can never, ever, in my view, eliminate hogs across the landscape, but we can control them to a threshold where they have less impact.”

Use the database below to search for hog harvest data in 2021.

Michael C. Ford