Hog hunters say a plan to keep them out of the Mark Twain National Forest is no way to cut the growing population of destructive — and dangerous — wild hogs in southern Missouri.
“I personally think the Conservation Department and the U.S. Forest Service need to work with the hunters, because trapping efforts alone are not going to eradicate feral hogs,” said Aaron Fortner of Leasburg. “They’re going to have to work with the still-hunters and the dog-hunters in any way possible to get rid of these feral hogs.”
Bruce Lindsey, Winona, offered similar comments: “My solution to the problem is everybody working together, instead of eliminating anybody. The hogs are going to multiply, but they’re going to multiply faster if you eliminate the public. We’re actually the landowners anyway, so they shouldn’t be alienating us.”
Jason Raulston, from Salem, was blunt in his assessment that the government plan to eliminate the feral hog problem will have exactly the opposite effect.
“It’s creating a nursery,” he said. Taking hunters out of the mix will ease up pressure on the hogs, and they’ll continue to multiply even more rapidly into even more unmanageable numbers. You’ve got to eradicate 70-80 percent of them to break even. That’s going to take a cooperative effort.”
Those three were among a roomful of men and women who attended the public open house in Rolla called by the Mark Twain National Forest. Federal officials want to close off the forest from hog hunters, choosing instead to work with the Department of Conservation on a plan to trap hogs, or shoot them from helicopters.
Although the number of feral hogs running wild in the Ozarks is said to be so large that the animals pose a large problem to farmers and landowners, the Department of Conservation has decided trapping, rather than hunting, is the solution.
The Forest Service plan to close the forest to any hunting of feral swine on the forest except by trappers approved by the Missouri Feral Hog Partnership “is in response to a Missouri Department of Conservation request to make policies consistent across all public lands in Missouri to halt the spread of feral swine and the resulting damage they cause,” according to the announcement.
The federal plan has been placed on the Federal Register, and the open house at Rolla and another held later at Fredericktown were times for the officials to explain their position and hear from those who oppose the plan or have other, additional ideas.
“This will be an opportunity for members of the public to learn about the interagency efforts happening to eliminate feral hogs from Missouri, and why it is so important to do so,” forest officials said in a news announcement prior to the event.
Written comments about the no-hunting plan were also taken during the evening.
“The Forest Service will consider public comments to determine if the proposal should be implemented as presented, implemented with modifications, or decline to implement a closure,” according to the official announcement.
Fortner, Lindsey, Raulston and other hunters and landowners who attended the open house June 18 at the Signature Event Center in Rolla said the plan is short-sighted and insufficient.
Fortner, of Leasburg, said the officials want to stop hunting because they claim the hunters spread the hogs out.
“I’m a hunter. I’ve dog-hunted a couple of years now, and that is a lie,” he said. “I spent four and a half hours in one holler and killed 14 hogs with my dogs. If my dogs are spreading those hogs out, how did I kill 14 hogs in one holler?”
He said the authorities are also “blaming the hunters for relocating hogs.” Acknowledging that such might be happening, he said it is done by such a small number of hunters that the effect is minor compared to the natural reproductive rate of the hogs.
To get the hogs down to a manageable number is going to take time and many hunters, not just the approved list of trappers, Fortner said.
“Dog-hunters are going into places and getting hogs out of where trappers won’t go,” he said.
Fortner also said he believes that the animals will “become trap savvy” and will avoid the tripwire traps.
“I know some of those large private traps are only tripped about once a year,” he said. “It’s ineffective at best.”
On the other hand, he said, “My group of guys killed over 300 hogs last year.” Multiply that by hundreds — or more — groups of hunters throughout southern Missouri, and there will be more of a chance of getting a handle on the hog problem.
“And they’re a reliable food source,” Fortner said of the wild hogs. “They (the authorities) say they’re full of disease, but they’re really not.”
There’s more chance of disease spreading by trappers, he charged. “They trap them, kill them and leave them lay,” he said, adding that those rotting carcasses are not good for the land.
Lindsey, who owns 400 acres in Shannon County near Winona and says he has lived there for 64 years, said, “I know a little bit about the area.”
“I’m a hog hunter,” he said. “Basically, my whole idea of it is don't cut us off. We're helping you instead of hurting you.”
He said that he lives in an area where trapping will be impossible.
“They don’t have any road access to that area. We have horses and dogs,” he said. The trappers are not going to be able to trap in the areas where hunters can get into and kill hogs. “So, don’t eliminate us out of the equation.”
Lindsey said the federal officials know better, because similar plans haven’t worked in other states.
“I have a friend in Mississippi who said it didn’t work there,” he said. “By the time they figured out that it wasn’t working, the hogs already had taken over.”
Lindsey said he would like to see everybody working together on the problem.
“Get the whole group together to work to solve any kind of problem. That’s the way to go about it,” Lindsey said. “People are anti-government now. Is it any wonder? They’re thinking about making it a felony to kill a hog. A felony to kill a hog. When you can abort your baby and no penalty whatsoever. Now does that make any sense at all to the human race?”
Mike Bell, of Summersville, said the money being spent on the plan would be better spent by paying a bounty to hunters.
“if you count all the vehicles, all the employees, all the traps. If you added up all the money, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to put a bounty of $25-$50 on a tail?” he said. “It would be way cheaper.”
Not only is the trapping plan going to be futile in halting the reproduction of hogs, “it is not going to be cost-effective either,” Bell said.
Bell also said the hogs trapped ought to be offered to people to eat.
“They say it’s tainted, but most meat is tainted. “What’s more organic than a wild hog?” he said. Deer have chronic wasting syndrome, which is a man-killing disease, but “they’re not trapping deer. They’re still selling hunting permits, deer tags.”
Rick Robertson, also of Summersville, observed that the open house seemed to be a way to tell the public about what has already been decided rather than to take comments.
“Look at the booths around the room,” he said, pointing out the tables set up by the agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But, he added, only written comments were being accepted.
Raulston, from Salem, said the plan is based on a familiar reason.
“It’s all about money,” he said. “They’re wanting to insure they get federal monies, so they have to make an effort to look like they’re doing something.”
He said he has seen a video of a federal official stating that keeping the money within the federal system, not giving it to hunters or landowners to fight the hog problem, should be a primary concern.
Sherry Schwenke, Mark Twain National Forest supervisor, said she hoped all the people who are unhappy with the plan will submit their ideas in writing.
“In order to consider any idea, we have to have it in writing,” she said.
For more information, and to view the proposed Forest Closure Order, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/feralswine. The public may submit comments via email or through regular mail during the 60-day comment period. The comment period began May 24, and comments must be received or postmarked no later than July 23 for consideration. Send comments via email to SM.FS.MTFeralSwine@usda.gov or to the mailing address is Forest Supervisor; ATTN: Feral Swine Comment; Mark Twain National Forest; 401 Fairgrounds Road; Rolla, MO 65401. Learn more about feral swine and the proposed closure order by visiting: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/feralswine