For 18 months, Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge has been a battleground, with federal sharpshooters taking aim at the region’s feral swine. Those agents are returning this month for a third attempt at culling the herd.
Almost 140 feral hogs at the Refuge have been killed in USDA culling operations since the first, which took place in February 2017. During each culling, the agency fielded a helicopter over the area of Topock Marsh, where aerial snipers eradicated the invasive species. Neither effort was completely effective because of the dense underbrush in which the feral hogs thrive, but the operations have put a dent in their population at the wildlife refuge.
Feral swine have proven difficult to hunt on land due to their size, their ability to move through dense underbrush and their intelligence. According to the USDA, feral swine are intelligent enough to adapt to almost any environment. They reproduce quickly, with each female able to produce more than a dozen offspring per year — which only accelerates as the swine are placed under stress. Such swine, far removed from their domesticated cousins, have been found in almost 40 states. Their cumulative population is estimated to be more than 5 million, nationwide.
“Our situation is getting a lot better,” said Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge Manager Rich Meyers. “We’re doubling our efforts, and I think there may be less than 100 of them left. We don’t expect for them all to die … The marsh is too thick for the pilots or shooters to see through. It’s only when they break and move in the open that we can confirm they’ve been killed.”
This month’s operation is a shift in strategy from previous ventures by the USDA. While previous operations were held in February 2017 and 2018, the region’s sweltering September weather is expected to bring more feral swine to the refuge’s waterways as they seek comfort and sustenance. Rather than huffing and puffing, USDA marksmen will wait for the pigs to come out on their own.
According to the USDA, the eradication of feral swine is a national necessity; and the agency in 2014 received $20 million from Congress to fund eradication efforts. The swine are not native to any specific state, but are instead the descendants of swine that escaped from domestication. A feral hog can weigh hundreds of pounds, and are known to cause damage to natural ecosystems in which they forage. According to a 2015 USDA report, feral swine are responsible for an average $1.5 billion in agricultural damage per year, and diseases carried by such animals are easily transferrable to humans.
Areas of the refuge will be closed Sept. 17 to Sept. 21 as the operation continues, specifically in the areas of Catfish Paradise, North and South Dikes, Pintail Slough, Five-Mile Landing and the Beal Overlook Platform. Those areas will not be closed on weekends, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If additional closure days are required, they will occur from Sept. 24 to Sept. 28.