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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

USDA project kills about 375 feral hogs

BY MICHAEL PEARCE
The Wichita Eagle

About 375 feral hogs were killed in Kansas by U.S. Department of Agriculture biologists over the past year.

That's good news to Gilbert Rahn, a Cowley County farmer.

"We needed to do something to keep them under control," Rahn said. "(A few years ago) they about wiped out 40 acres of our corn."

Last week USDA biologists, along with people from several state agencies, completed their fourth consecutive year of aerial gunning from helicopters.

Biologists also trapped about 240 feral hogs since last year's flights. John Johnson, USDA biologist, said the recent aerial gunning killed about 140 pigs in Kansas.

It's hoped feral pigs can be eradicated before they pass diseases to domestic hogs or humans. Feral pigs are also destructive to crops, pastures and wildlife habitats.

The gunning began Feb. 16 near Elkhart. The first flights were in Colorado and largely funded by Colorado agencies.

"We got 70 and we found a lot of them within about a mile of the Kansas border, so we're pretty sure they were going back and forth," Johnson said. "We only found two on the Kansas side."

Flights are only over lands where permission has been granted. Blood samples are taken from the pigs before they're taken to rendering plants or buried.

The meat is not salvaged because of liability fears and to help the project proceed quickly.

The second stop was around Medicine Lodge, an area once a hot spot for wild hogs.

The tide seems to have turned.

Last year the crew shot 135 in the area. This year 82 were killed.

"We're stoked right now at the progress we've made down there," Johnson said. "A lot of the landowners where we've flown in past say they aren't seeing any pigs or any signs of pigs."

Flights did find more hogs than anticipated in the Kaw Wildlife Area east of Arkansas City.

Johnson had scouted a herd of about 23 regularly coming to a bait site. Flights killed 62.

"I think we literally got on them just after they came up out of Oklahoma," he said. "Our timing was good."

Progress has been made in that area, too.

Landowners on Grouse Creek, like Rahn, haven't seen pigs or had crop damage in many months.

No wild hogs were seen on flights near Clinton Lake, by Lawrence, last week.

In the past populations have been completely, or mostly, exterminated near Phillipsburg, Ashland, Rantoul and Fort Riley.

A portion of southeast Kansas continues to have a sizable population.

Johnson said a few landowners denying permission for aerial gunning and trapping are hindering his operations.

Budget cuts kept Johnson from flying neighboring lands this winter.

He's hoping to hit southeast Kansas hard next winter and other areas every other year.

Rahn hopes that's the case.

"If they get to where they don't do anything in four or five years (hogs) will be back like they were before," he said. "I sure hope they can keep their funding."

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