BILLINGS, Mont. – “It takes a village,” Montana State Veterinarian Martin Zaluski stated during his opening remarks at the Feral Swine Summit on Nov. 15. Stakeholders from Canada and across Montana gathered to discus strategies as the threat of a potential feral swine invasion becomes even more likely.
At this point, feral swine are found in 38 states and in several Canadian provinces. There have been no reported feral swine in Montana, but they are traveling closer and closer to the Montana/Canadian border and there is the continual threat that someone might transport swine in for hunting.
“We do not have feral swine established in the state. What we are doing is a preemptive, proactive effort to get the necessary stakeholders together should we get an introduction down the road,” Zaluski said.
Following Dr. Zaluski’s remarks, Dr. Ryan Brook, associate professor from the University of Saskatchewan, spoke about the reproductive ecology of feral swine. Canada has seen massive expansion of their feral swine population since 2010, and the fear is that if swine ever do travel into Montana, they can reproduce at an impressive rate. Feral swine, like domestic swine, can have two litters per year, and on average, each pregnancy produces six fetuses.
A panel, which consisted of key government and private stakeholders, then came forward and discussed some of the other potential risks that could be associated with a feral swine invasion. It is estimated that feral swine cost the U.S. upwards of $2 billion dollars a year in damages with around $800 million being directly related to agriculture.
Feral swine wallow or root, which can be majorly disruptive to the physical landscape. In addition, feral swine are known to eat between three and five percent of their body weight. Small grain crops are a popular food item for feral swine, as are newborn animals. Some states in the southeastern U.S. have even reported damages to their hemp crops due to feral swine.
Potentially most worrisome is the fact that feral swine are excellent vehicles for disease transmission. Anna Forseth, program veterinarian for the state of Montana, and Jennifer Ramsey, veterinarian for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, provided an overview of how feral swine can be linked to a laundry list of diseases which can affect both domestic and wild animals.
“We all know once a disease is introduced into a free-ranging wildlife population that it is very difficult, if not nearly impossible to control or eradicate,” Ramsey said.
Suffice to say, a feral swine population in Montana could quickly become an overwhelming problem.
In 2015, Montana passed legislation addressing management should feral swine ever enter the state. The law prohibits the transport, possession or hunting of any feral swine. As it stands now, it is mandatory to report any sighting of feral swine. Violators of the law can be fined between $2,000 and $10,000 per offense. Only landowners, or those who hold the lease on property, have the option to shoot first, but it is highly discouraged. Feral swine are smart and elusive and are known to scatter at the sound of gunshot.
The potential invasion of feral swine into Montana is one to be taken seriously. Feral swine pose a threat to not only agriculture, but to public health and safety as well. The Montana Department of Livestock has initiated its “Squeal on Pigs” campaign. If any feral swine are sighted, please call (406) 444-2976 to report.