By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan’s feral swine problem just got a biblical solution.
Over the past year, a number of feral swine have been collared with radio trackers and released back into the wild for research, said Dwayne Etter, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife specialist spearheading the eradication efforts.
But in winter 2016 these swine will unknowingly lead armed parties to their herd’s position, earning them the title of “Judas hogs,” Etter said.
While the hogs won’t earn 30 pieces of silver, they will be left alive for research until the following spring, he said.
Until then, research efforts include recruiting more hogs via collaring and examining the behavior of several preliminary Judas hogs after their herds are killed off and they’re left alone, he said.
Outside the research zone of Gladwin, Mecosta, Arenac, Bay, Gratiot, Midland and Roscommon counties, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is trapping and killing feral swine, Etter said.
The Judas hog eradication method has been used elsewhere to combat unwanted species, such as feral goats on the Galapagos Islands, Etter said.
Feral swine — wild pigs — were declared an invasive species in 2011, and they’re known for ploughing up fields, lawns, golf courses and eating just about anything, Michigan Pork Producers Association Executive Vice President Sam Hines said.
According to the USDA, adult feral swine on average weigh 75 to 250 pounds, with some much heavier.
The invasive species order was contentious, as it precluded hunt clubs from maintaining wild boars and offering them for sport, but Hines said the hogs’ escape artist nature justifies the ban.
“The problem with the hogs is that unless you have a really strong fence, they’ll escape,” Hines said. “The only fence that’ll hold a wild hog is a fence that’ll hold water.”
There’s also concern about their potentially damaging effect on Michigan’s pork industry from contamination with pseudorabies, bovine tuberculosis and other diseases that feral swine could carry, Hines said.
“The reason we’ve got so involved is we’ve eliminated the diseases in the domestic swine herd that the feral ones carry,” he said. “It would perhaps, in the worst case scenario, prevent Michigan from shipping hogs out of the state.”
Michigan’s pork industry exceeds $500 million a year, said association Executive Director Mary Kelpinski.
Although DNR’s Etter couldn’t provide population estimates, he said reproducing feral swine can give birth to three to seven younglings twice a year.
Their fertility, along with a lack of non-human predators and environmental challenges, spell a disastrous future if not eradicated, he said.
“It won’t take long for that type of reproduction to have a situation that grows and that we can’t get under control,” he said.
The feral swine are proving a resilient invasive species, according to ongoing research with the collared pigs by DNR, Michigan State University, University of Michigan-Flint and USDA.
Researchers found the pests are resistant to harsh winters, can spawn a litter twice a year and are able to traverse more than 13 miles in two days, Etter said.