CLEMSON, S.C. — With feral hogs destroying property, threatening endangered species and hindering conservation efforts on a massive military base in Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sought out the expertise of Greg Yarrow, professor and chair of forestry and environmental conservation at Clemson University, who studied feral hogs’ diets as a graduate student in Texas.
Evans knew of Yarrow’s previous research. “I knew that Greg was one of the best-suited people in the country to help us with this diet analysis of the feral hogs,” Evans said. “The work that Clemson is providing will tell us on a gross scale what types of things the hogs are selecting for food on a seasonal and monthly basis.”“One of the intermediate steps before you can really get into an effective animal control program is understanding what those critters are depending on in terms of food habits at different times of the year,” said Darrell Evans, research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center Environmental Laboratory in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Clemson is working with the Corps of Engineers on two projects at Fort Hood, the largest military base in the world by area with more than 215,000 acres. First, the researchers will identify what the feral pigs are eating during the calendar year and how their seasonal diet varies. Next, they will analyze the pigs’ locations and habitats as they roam the base, through data collected via GPS tracking to determine potentially impacted habitats or wildlife species and to inform trapping efforts.
“The pigs are omnivores, so they are opportunistic in what they eat,” said Clemson assistant professor of wildlife ecology David Jachowski, who leads the projects. “Right now, we are looking at the stomach contents after they are rinsed and run through screens to pick out the larger material, and we’re categorizing it as plant, animal, other and so on.”
Data collected by Clemson researchers will be compared with maps that detail various habitats on the base to identify where particular food types occur, allowing animal damage control teams to concentrate their efforts into specific areas where the hogs are typically located on a seasonal basis.
The second phase of the project — analysis of the GPS tracking data — is slated to begin this month and is expected to be finished by June.
While Jachowski’s efforts focus on Fort Hood, Clemson also has been instrumental in helping South Carolina stakeholders combat the rising impacts of feral hogs.
“There are several of us here who are working on this issue,” Jachowski said. “Dr. Yarrow has played a particularly large role with the South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force, and Clemson Extension has a big role with that task force as well. While Dr. Shari Rodriguez is not specifically working on this project, she works on feral pig issues in South Carolina, particularly related to private landowners and agricultural crop loss.”
Rodriguez, assistant professor of human dimensions of wildlife, surveyed 2,500 farmers and members of the S.C. Farm Bureau to help understand their perceptions of wild hogs and the cost of damage caused by the invasive pigs brought to North America by European settlers centuries ago to hunt.
Her 2016 report estimated $44 million in damage to crops, livestock and timber across the state, while landowners reported another $71 million in non-crop losses from damage to wildlife food plots, streams, ponds, wetlands, equipment, unpaved roads, fire lanes and landscaping.
South Carolina has experienced a dramatic increase in the distribution and abundance of wild hogs in recent decades, causing a significant rise in economic and environmental damage that warrants control. Beyond alligators in the lower part of the state, humans are the only native predators of adult wild hogs.
“We started the S.C. Wild Hog Task Force for awareness and education about hogs and their impacts and trying to come up with solutions to address it,” Yarrow said. “We meet a couple of times a year to update on activity, and we do a lot of workshops across the state. Part of it is awareness and education, and there is also management information for landowners and the research we do.
“For this project with the Army, we’ve got it set up where they can sole source now because we have the capability to do some of the work they are interested in. We’re part of the system now, so any future work they want done, we have a pipeline here at Clemson.”
–Steven Bradley, Clemson Media Relations
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