The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ aerial control program to shoot feral hogs from a helicopter last week on Sherburne and Pearl River Wildlife Management Areas netted a total of 54 downed pigs, according to the state veterinarian.
Dr. Jim LaCour said the department has not been invoiced by the helicopter company yet, but confirmed the agreed-upon cost for the project was $550 per hour plus the salary for the pilot and shooter.
Figuring on two eight-hour work days, that would come to $8,800 plus the cost of the crew, but LaCour said they did the work in less than two full days.
Pearl River WMA was flown on Monday (March 10) and netted 21 hogs, and Sherburne was completed on Friday (March 14) with 33 hogs taken, he said.
“The goal was to shoot as many as could be seen,” LaCour said. “What got misconstrued in all the interviews is the helicopter is capable of harvesting 300 hogs a day. If they’re wide open and there are hogs everywhere and they’re hitting everything they shoot, they’re capable of harvesting 300 hogs a day.
“They flew at Pearl River for about half a day in the marsh south of Highway 90 and they harvested the hogs they saw, which was exactly what they were supposed to do. If there had been 300 hogs in the marsh, they would have hopefully harvested 300. But there weren’t. They didn’t see that many.”
The announcement that the department was using helicopters to control the hog population on the two WMAs generated lots of comments on LouisianaSportsman.com’s forum and Facebook pages last week.
“What's wrong with using the Louisiana hunter to eliminate the hog population?" one poster identified as Dan McKinzey wrote. "Anybody ever thought of that? LDWF has lost its purpose, which is to protect resources using tax-payer-friendly, cost-efficient good science and fair-to-all regulation .... Freedom from regulations that shorten seasons (and) increasing access to WMAs allowing hunters the weapon of their choice to remove hogs is the most taxpayer-friendly, fiscally responsible method that will curtail the increasing outlaw quadruped problem.”
But LaCour defended the use of the helicopter on the WMAs, and said hunters are not impacting the wild hog population sufficiently.
“They have the opportunity as it is for six months out of the year to harvest hogs. But the populations of hogs is not visibly decreasing, nor is the damage from them,” he said. “We had people that were in my face at the boat launch at Pearl River that told me they go in with their dogs and they release the majority of the hogs they catch. What good does that do? Nothing.
“If people are shooting them, great. If people are catching them with dogs and killing them, great. But if people are catching them and releasing them, what good does that do biologically? Nothing.”
LaCour said the department is currently offering an extended trapping season on some WMAs to harvest more hogs, and that existing hunting regulations also would be under review.
“There are plans to review the WMAs one by one and look at the programs and see if there is opportunity to expand the programs or change the weapons that they can use on the WMAs,” LaCour said. “But that’s not really in my purview, per se. There are people in other areas of the department that deal with that.”
LaCour also pointed out that aerial control programs have been used in other parts of state, by both LDWF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its national wildlife refuges.
“We’ve done it all along the coast. Sabine on the western part of the state has been doing it for years, and we’ve done it on Pass-a-Loutre for years,” he said. “It’s been used in other portions of North Louisiana for several years very effectively.
“It just happened to be Pearl River that caught the most attention because that is the hog-dog destination for Louisiana in the WMA system.”
The problem LaCour has to address is balancing the needs of hog hunters with the rest of the public who use a WMA like Pearl River, he said.
“That management area has to be managed for deer hunting, squirrel hunting, photographers, bird watchers — everything,” he said. “We can’t have a ‘hog hunting WMA’ that’s dedicated to hog hunting. That’s just the way things are.
“They are public-use areas, and not all of the population of Louisiana wants to hog hunt.”
The problem in controlling the hogs across the state is how fast they can reproduce and how effective they are in adapting, LaCour said.
“A sow has two litters per year. They carry for three months, three weeks and three days, for a total of 114 days. They average six piglets per litter, and they come back into heat a week after weaning the piglets,” he said. “If you do the pyramid scheme and add up those piglets and understand at six months of age they’re fertile, and by a year they’re having babies, they’re a very explosive mammal.
“Their populations can literally explode, and that’s what we see on the landscape.”
In order to keep a static number of pigs in a habitat, LaCour said hunters have to harvest 75 percent of the wild hog population annually in that area.
“Or you’ll have a population increase the next year,” he said. “That’s just the nuts and bolts of the sow-breeding program: They a very fecund animal; they have lots of babies — two litters a year — and they can repopulate very rapidly. If you don’t take out the 75 percent, then you have exponential growth.”
Another concern LaCour has is that hogs are damaging newly-rejuvenated marsh that’s been able to recover because of the state’s nutria control program.
“What we’re seeing is that the hogs are coming back in and tearing up the marsh that is starting to regenerate after harvesting the nutria,” he said. “So essentially, if that happens you have wasted millions and millions of dollars to take nutria out, and then the hogs come in and tear up the marsh that was regenerating.”
Another portion of the aerial program that generated feedback from LouisianaSportsman.com users was the fact that the hogs were left on the WMAs where they were shot.
“I wish they would at least let people pay to shoot the hogs from a helicopter or let people who want the meat go get it because some will be wasted,” Seth Patout wrote.
But LaCour said the potential for the hog to spread disease during the cleaning process prevented the agency from allowing the meat to be taken for human consumption.
“I can guarantee you no one in this agency is wasteful-minded. And everyone was brought up to take what they kill, put it in their freezer and feed their family with it,” he said. “Nobody likes wasting things, but with the hogs we cannot in good faith send the carcass to a food bank where some unsuspecting cook is in there cutting up meat, then cuts himself and gets sick from it.”
Regardless of whether helicopters are used or not, the key to keeping the population in check is for everyone to harvest as many hogs as possible, he said.
“We’re not out to take away anyone’s sport,” LaCour said. “If we can get more people out there killing more hogs, that’s fine with everyone in this department.
“Let them go. Let them have fun. But just kill them. Don’t catch them and let them loose or move them.”