A new program co-sponsored by Georgia’s departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources links farmers with hunters who are willing to help them reduce wild-hog populations.
Wild hogs cost Georgia farmers millions of dollars each year. According to a survey conducted by DNR with funding from the Georgia Farm Bureau, in 2011 the total estimated damage caused by feral hogs to Georgia farmers and landowners was $57 million.
That damage included destroyed cash crops, fencing, farm equipment, pastures and landscaping. Feral hogs also carry parasites and diseases, including brucellosis and pseudorabies. Some diseases can be transmitted to domestic livestock, pets and humans.
A 2012 DNR survey was sent to 1,200 randomly selected farmers. Of the 471 useable responses, 70 percent confirmed there were feral hogs on their land. Among that 70 percent, 96 percent said the hogs cause extensive damage every year. But help is on the way.
“’Hunters Helping Farmers’ is a new, private-lands initiative opportunity that seeks to match up hog hunters … with farmers who need assistance with hog removal,” GDA Chief Communications Officer Julie McPeake said. “This initiative is a partnership effort … in order to help landowners manage the damaging impact of feral hogs. The Hunters Helping Farmers program was launched Oct. 14, and as of (Oct. 20), we had (only three) farmers registered. (However,) we expect this number to increase dramatically over the next few weeks.”
McPeake said the GDA’s registry is broken down by county. DNR Director of Public and Government Affairs Mary Kathryn Yearta said that feral hogs now are found in all 159 Georgia counties. She noted that initial enthusiasm for the new program clearly is evident among Georgia hunters. As of Oct 20, she said 9,606 licensed hunters had signed up for the program.
The counties with the most hunters signing up surround metro Atlanta, including Gwinnett with 512 hunters signed up, Cobb with 476, Fulton with 306 and Forsyth with 267.
Yearta said GDA Commissioner Gary Black approached DNR Commissioner Mark Williams about brainstorming some ideas to deal with the feral-hog problem. Williams said matching hunters who are looking for additional hunting opportunities with landowners who are looking for help “dispatching” feral hogs on their property is a good idea. While it may help reduce hog populations for participating farmers, Black said the new program is not a fix to the wild hog problem.
“It is a natural fit to connect hunters and farmers together to try and help solve this growing problem,” Black said. “In no way will this be a silver bullet, but hopefully, (in) one small way, we can help assist in this huge issue for our farmers.”
Yearta explained that if a farmer is looking to connect with a hunter in his or her county, but there are no hunters registered in that county, he will be provided with the names of hunters in surrounding counties. Priority will be given to connecting hunters and farmers living in the same county, she said.
“(The) hog population constantly grows,” Yearta said. “Hogs can begin having litters as early as 6 months old. Litters can be (up to) 13 piglets, (and) they can have up to two litters a year… (We) have no idea which county has highest hog populations as we do not have a statewide population estimate. An estimate on hunter harvest is 200,000 for one year.”
The DNR’s Hunters Helping Farmer’s registry is a list of licensed hunters willing to participate in the program. Information about the hunters is provided to farmers who request assistance. Information about farmers is not provided to hunters.
Yearta said wild hogs can be hunted year-round by anyone who has a current hunting license. A “big-game” tag is not required. There’s no limit on the number of hogs a hunter can kill, she said, but added the rules for hunting on the farmer’s private property are part of the hunting agreement, to include hunting anything other than hogs.
“The Georgia Department of Agriculture will provide farmers with a phone number and/or email (address) for the hunters available in their area,” McPeake said. “Information will not be sold to or shared with other groups. If a potential hunter is selected, the farmer/landowner will contact the hunter directly.”
For more information about Hunters Helping Farmers, call 844-464-5455.