Feral hogs threaten sensitive habitat on Roan Highlands

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Contributed Photo  Feral hogs on the Roan pose a threat to native species' food sources, nearby livestock, the natural lay of the land and to hikers.

Contributed Photo
Feral hogs on the Roan pose a threat to native species’ food sources, nearby livestock, the natural lay of the land and to hikers.

Most folks anticipate seeing rhododendrons, azaleas, meadow fritillary, warblers and now Baa-tany goats in the summers while hiking along the bald ridge line of Roan Mountain. Feral hogs are not ranked anywhere on conservationists’ lists of ideal wildlife to be roaming the Roan.
In fact, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett said they are a nuisance and a threat to the native habitat.
“The hogs are causing noticeable damage to globally rare ecosystems, including grassy balds, and are spreading into private lands,” Crockett stated in a 2014 report on the hogs.
These feral hogs have had a recorded presence in Tennessee and North Carolina since the late 1800s, she said, but they are not the same hogs present today. Russian board were introduced into western North Carolina as a game species in 1912, according to the Center for Revolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State. They were moved around the country for hunting and eventually escaped from game farms, bred with domestic hogs and produced the feral hogs present today.
Though they have been documented on the Roan Highlands since 2009, she said they may have been there longer.
The hybrid is an aggressive species which has no natural predators. They sustain an average weight of 200 pounds on vegetation, reptiles, amphibians, fruits, nuts, insects, dead animals and frequently on peoples’ crops, said Crockett.
This poses a threat to extraordinarily rare species on the Roan including the Gray’s Lily, spruce-fire moss spider, endemic snails and rare salamanders. Also at risk are the eggs and young of the golden warbler, Henslow’s Sparrow, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and potentially the rare Carolina flying squirrel. While the hogs may eat some of these species, they also compete with other animals for foods, some of which are rare and fragile.
“In addition to direct predation and competition with rare species, invasive hogs can cause significant physical damage to seeps and springs, grassy balds, and other sensitive habitats,” wrote Crockett.
They may also transfer disease to livestock, reported Crockett. She said they can carry pseudorabies Virus, swine brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, African swine fever, Classical swine fever and Foot and Mouth Disease. To humans, she said they can transmit leptospirosis, brucellosis, E. coli, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, rabies, swine influenza and other diseases.
The solution? Crockett said effective trapping and removal programs have been highly successful in other areas, especially when combined with making it illegal to hunt them. This removes hunters’ drive to introduce them.
SAHC along with state, federal and non-governmental organizations are working to address the issue on the Roan. Crockett believes awareness is the first step, and she has held various seminars and published information to educate about this issue.
Trapping and monitoring efforts in Avery and Mitchell Counties began in 2014 and Crockett reports they were quite successful. Thanks to federal funding administered to USDA Animal And Plant Health Inspection Services, the program began implementing national, collaborative efforts to eradicate the swine from 39 states. The goal is to protect agricultural and natural resources as well as property, animal and human health and safety.
In 2016, there are now 12 agencies at work to combat the problem on the Roan alone. These include regional national forests and state parks along with individuals and partner organizations.
Kaitlin Shannon, an intern from university of North Carolina Asheville is studying hog diet and movement with wildlife cameras along with students from Viriginia Tech and other schools.
Educating landowners, farmers, hunters and recreationists is a critical element as well, said Crockett.
For hikers, she said to be alert, especially at dusk or dawn when they are most active. She recommended avoiding water sources that may have been used by hogs as they can carry disease. If a hiker encounters a hog, she recommended re-routing the hike or climbing the nearest tree. In general though, she said they tend to avoid contact with humans and pose the greatest threat to the fragile ecosystem atop the Roan.
For more information, contact Crockett at marquette@appalachian.org or by calling 828-253-0095 extension 210.

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