Wild hogs tear up creek banks and destroy vegetation throughout Congaree National Park, and park managers are considering upgrading their limited hog control efforts.
But the draft proposal the park put up for public comment on Monday rules out public hunts because of the disruption they would cause in a federally designated wilderness area, while trapping and moving the wild hogs to another area was ruled out for fear of spreading diseases such as brucellosis.
Instead, the options include the current management efforts, which hardly put a dent in the wild hog population, or a more extensive, and expensive, alternative that has the potential to reduce the population long-term. Even the more extensive management effort wouldn’t rid the 26,500-acre park of wild hogs, but it would help reduce their impact on the environment.
“Research indicates that about 70 percent of a wild pig population must be removed each year for a sustained period of time to substantially reduce a wild population,” the draft report said. “Difficulty accessing the wilderness is likely to reduce the park’s ability to achieve this level of population control.”
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Wild hogs are not a native species in South Carolina. Most of the wild hogs in South Carolina evolved from domesticated pigs brought here centuries ago. A few larger varieties of wild hogs also have been brought here more recently and released on private hunting preserves only to spread into other areas.
John Grego, president of the Friends of Congaree Swamp group, said he hasn’t heard much objection to the current management effort. People who love the park and spend a lot of time in the extensive flood-plain forest see the damage done by the growing wild hog population, and they appreciate properly managed efforts to reduce that population.
“The park does have a lot of territory with a lot of hogs,” Grego said. “Are they going to solve (the problem)? No.”
But if the wild hog situation is left unchecked, the problem will get worse, he said.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides some wild hog management in the park, trapping and shooting in targeted areas in an effort to control spread of disease. But that effort, budgeted for $25,000 annually, has been curtailed in the past year due to federal sequestration cuts.
Continuing that effort is one option in the management plan. The second option involves ramping up that effort.
More than 80 percent of the park is under strict wilderness area regulations, which means workers can’t use vehicles to reach areas deep in the park. Exemptions can be made to the wilderness regulations if actions are necessary to protect native wildlife, waterways or historic features. At Congaree National Park, the management report contends, non-native wild hogs threaten native plant species, degrade the quality of pristine creeks and damage centuries-old cattle mounds that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The second option in the plan would allow the wildlife managers to use vehicles on former logging roads to get to targeted hog management sites. It also would allow the limited use of dogs to help managers locate wild hogs.
A major hurdle for the second option might be expense. The report estimated the first year budget for the more extensive effort would be $221,220. The cost would drop slightly in subsequent years as park staff would be trained to take on some of the duties, according to the report.
The full environmental assessment and management plan can be found online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=61016. The public comment period runs through the end of September.