Federal and state wildlife officials announced Thursday shotgun-armed people in helicopters will now be used this winter to combat invasive feral hogs in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
LBL Spokesperson Christopher Joyner said feral hogs can destroy farm fields, spread disease and damage historical cemeteries inside the recreation area. Feral hogs across the country cost the federal government $1.5 billion each year. He said 70 hogs were killed in 2018, and 124 hogs were killed so far this year, primarily from trapping. But the method hasn’t been enough.
“We knew we were having problems. We thought up to that point that trapping was going to be able to get us the eradication we needed, because this is not a problem we’ve dealt with here in this kind of scale,” Joyner said. “The aerial part has to be done when there’s no leaves on the trees...so we had to wait until this winter. But that gave us time to do deliberate planning.”
The operation is being led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with support from state wildlife agencies in Kentucky and Tennessee. Joyner said officials plan to begin using the helicopters after deer hunting season ends to lower the chance of people being on the ground during an operation, with safety measures in place if helicopters do run into individuals.
“They’re gonna be flying very low, right over the tree-tops,” said Terri Brunjes, a biologist specializing in wild hogs at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. ‘We’re going to close small areas off, and we’re going to have a ground crew in constant contact via radio with the helicopter...if the helicopter sees somebody, they’ll call it in with the ground crew going to them and saying ‘hey, we’re doing this operation in this area.’”
Brunjes said feral hogs are very intelligent and are wary of standard traps. They’re also often scared away by human activity at LBL, and helicopters allow officials to reach remote parts of the recreation area where hogs could be. She said the operations are federally funded, with the helicopters being rented out between several states.
“In Kentucky, I think we have the opportunity to fully eradicate wild pigs, because our numbers are so small and our populations are scattered....it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be overnight. It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Brunjes said.
She said state wildlife officials have successfully cut down feral hog populations in central Kentucky, with other populations present in southern and east Kentucky. She also said wildlife officials general kill 300-400 feral hogs a year. But she said the number of hogs killed is dropping because the populations are shrinking.