Boarish behavior: NH's invasion of the wild pigs
Brought to America by Spanish settlers in the 1500s as a meat source and imported again in the 1800s to be hunted in gated, private parks, some have escaped over the years and are eating everything in sight, including threatened and endangered species, biologists say.
Nationally there are more than 20 million wild pigs. In the Granite State, feral and free-ranging swine number in the hundreds, but they have adapted well and reproduce quickly, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game Wildlife biologist Mark Ellingwood.
Omnivores who dwell in packs, they eat everything from roots and worms, amphibians to deer fawns and can destroy a lawn, a garden and sensitive habitats in hours, he said.
Parker Hall, the USDA's state wildlife services program director, said the wild pigs 'are becoming an issue of increasing alarm to all wildlife agencies,' because they are growing in numbers nationally, destroying environmental communities, pushing out native species and imperilling endangered species.
He said of particular concern here are New Hampshire's amphibian and reptile population and native plant communities in swamps, some of which are listed as federally threatened or endangered.
Many of the feral pigs populating the East Coast are believed to have their origins in Tennessee. But New Hampshire has its own swine tradition that dates back to the 1890s, when Austin Corbin II of Newport founded a private hunting park.
Fish and Game Lt. Bob Bryant said Corbin Park is the last of the major game preserves in the state, and is some 24,000 acres, regulated by Fish and Game.
To this day, Corbin Park members hunt descendants of the Russian and German boar the man known as 'the father of banking' brought to the state, along with deer and elk and other large game animals.
In 1949, the legislature passed the boar damage law, requiring 'persons responsible for their introduction with their ownership' to be responsible for all damage of escaped boars. Since then, the state considers New Hampshire boars as the property of the park. The park itself does not claim ownership. But because of the law related to ownership, there can be no regulated hunt, Bryant said.
The animals are considered escaped property of Blue Mountain Forest Association, also known as Corbin Park. Gerald Merrill, manager of the park, did not return calls for comment.
Ask for permission
Bryant said hunters must ask for permission to shoot a boar. While park officials do not claim animals outside the fence are theirs, they readily give permission to those who want to shoot the animals.
'You still have to call them for permission,' he said.
He added that boars can be taken by hunters with a valid hunting license; the hours for hunting during daylight hours also apply.
Scott Gilroy, president of the Blue Mountain Forest Association, said the organization is willing to fix damage caused by the boars, but it takes no ownership of them.
'Over the years, yes, some have escaped,' the more than 20 miles of 13-foot fence, which he said a crew maintains.
'We take our responsibility to be a good neighbor very seriously,' he said. 'If there is damage to someone's lawn, we will fix it.'
Similarly, when someone calls to shoot a boar, we say, 'Please shoot it. We take no position on ownership, but we recognize the state RSA,'' making the park responsible for damage.
Gilroy said he had no estimates on the number of European wild boar in the association's forest. Their numbers fluctuate with the severity of winters, he said.
What concerns the association, Gilroy said, is the southern wild pig migration, which is marching northward.
'In five or ten years we are concerned about that,' he said, noting that if the feral swine breed with boars that have escaped the park, the responsibility portion of the state law may need to be revisited.
Reports of damage
Helenette Silver's 'A History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers,' published by Fish and Game in 1957, and considered by many to be the authoritative source on animals in New Hampshire during the past century, states that perhaps 25 to 30 animals escaped from the park soon after Corbin imported the two types of boars. She wrote they established a range in the towns of Croydon, Plainfield, Grantham and Cornish.
'A few have been spotted as far as Alexandria in Grafton County,' she wrote. A large fire on Blue Mountain in the 1950s was also believed to have led to the escape of some animals.
Ellingwood said there have also been sightings along the Connecticut River Valley as far away as Littleton and Lancaster, but most of the nuisance and reported damage is centered near Grantham and Cornish. Bryant agrees.
'They (Blue Mountain) won't claim ownership for obvious reasons, but it's pretty coincidental that they populate that area,' he said.
Still, Ellingwood said he can understand the park's contention that they should not be singled out as the sole source of the problem.
Nationally, documented feral swine populations are on the rise. No other states directly surrounding New Hampshire have documented feral swine populations; the state started seeing reports of feral swine about 1985.
The pigs are between 100 and 300 pounds with rough hair, tusks and rapier-sharp teeth, according to Silver. They are difficult to hunt, wily, and 'ornery animals you don't want to fool with,' Ellingwood said. 'We are concerned about their presence,' he said, primarily for ecological reasons.
In states where hunting has been allowed, there has been a rapid expansion of swine populations 'by those who want to hunt' and illegally introduce swine to an area.
Fish and Game hopes to control the boars in New Hampshire through public awareness, by getting people to report sightings, by working with Blue Mountain to maintain their 20 miles of fence and having conservation officers kill the animals outside the park.
'These are aggressive foragers and will have an impact on habitat' if not kept in check, Ellingwood said.