U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are hopeful this week after recent operations to cull feral swine populations in the area of Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. This September, the battle was apparently won without firing a single shot.
Since 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deployed aerial snipers to Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in an effort to cull the region’s population of feral swine. There have been seven such operations in the past three years, with early operations netting as many as 80 pigs each. According to Refuge Manager Rich Meyers, such operations have played a large role in reducing feral swine populations, and each successive operation has resulted in fewer kills as those populations dwindle. This year, there were none.
“They didn’t find a single pig,” Meyers said Thursday. “It’s what we’ve been hoping for. (The USDA) went up for three days before they were done.”
Feral swine cool themselves by wallowing on the bank of the Colorado River during the Lake Havasu Region’s blistering summer heat – and it’s one of the first things U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials look for when searching for feral pigs. None were found last month before the operation began, Meyers said.
“Their number has steadily been decreasing over the years,” Meyers said. “We have ground-trappers on the ground year-round, and cameras to monitor for feral hogs. We haven’t seen a sign of them since the operation ended in September.”
According to Meyers, that may not mean feral pigs are absent from the refuge – for months after each operation, swine have been known to hide in the thick brush throughout Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. But it appears to be a positive sign.
“We looked throughout the entire refuge, from Mesquite Bay to Fort Mohave,” Meyers said. “So far, we haven’t seen a single one.”
According to USDA records released last year, a typical three-day culling operation at the refuge cost taxpayers almost $25,000 in 2019. That cost included the price of transportation, maintenance and use of a helicopter, fuel, pilot and crew salaries, ammunition, travel vouchers and lodging for USDA agents.
“There’s no way we could have done this without the USDA,” Meyers said. “Since I’ve been here, the USDA has taken out about 300 to 400 of them.”
Feral swine are not considered to be “wild” native species, and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. They are also not considered to be “domesticated” under Arizona statute, and do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The animals are either domesticated swine who have either escaped captivity or been released – or the descendants of escaped swine.
Culling operations are performed by the USDA through a $20 million federal budget initiative specifically designated for the eradication of feral swine.
Feral swine are known to damage the habitat of indigenous species, and pose a threat to nesting endangered species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are also known to transmit pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli to humans through direct contact, or through contact with agricultural goods produced by humans.