Brooke Rossnagel of MacGregor has some inkling of the damage wild pigs can cause; he clearly remembers the aftermath after only a few found their way into his pasture a few years ago.
“It looked like somebody took a plow to one of the hillsides,” he said, marvelling at the amount of damage given the mere handful of tracks he found when he tracked the animals back to their water source.
“They weren’t very big,” he said. “But what I had seen in what they’d done to the pasture, if there was, say, a herd of 25 or 30 of them — look out; it’s going to be pretty bad.”
Rossnagel’s experience is, thankfully, still rare in Manitoba, where wild pigs have only recently gained more public awareness. Organizations like the Manitoba Wildlife Federation have, at least anecdotally, noted an uptick in signs and sightings, but the species has remained largely reclusive, save for the occasional story or trail camera image.
It is a far cry from the U.S., where farmers regularly post video of dozens of pigs running out of a cornfield, and where the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that wild pigs cost farmers about US$1.5 billion every year in both crop damage and control costs.
Even so, there is enough emerging concern in Manitoba that at least one commodity group is calling for insurance to get ahead of the curve, rather than risk the damage being reported in the south without business risk management tools already in place.
Manitoba’s beef producers say they want wild pigs added to the wildlife damage compensation program under MASC (Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation). Members resolved to take the issue up with the province during the Manitoba Beef Producers annual meeting in early February.
Voice of experience
Current research suggests that Manitoba’s problem with wild pigs pales in comparison to Saskatchewan’s, although a study out of the University of Saskatchewan last year suggested that wild pig range in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan had spiked since 2010.
Saskatchewan, arguably the hotbed for Western Canada’s wild swine problem, is currently the only western province offering wildlife damage compensation for wild pigs.
The Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) says it averages about four claims a year due to wild swine. From 2009-18, farmers made 25 claims worth about $96,260.
David Van Deynze, MASC vice-president of innovation and product support, says MASC has not yet heard other commodity groups calling for wild pigs to be made eligible for wildlife damage compensation.
“Certainly people have raised concerns over what the outlook is for these things,” he said.
Van Deynze did not immediately dismiss the idea of adding wild pigs to the program, although he noted that wild pigs are a deviation from how the regulation is currently defined.
“There’s lots of criteria that goes into those types of considerations and, currently, the way the wildlife damage compensation regulation is… they’re all protected species of some sort,” he said. “These wild boars don’t fit into that category. Not to say they couldn’t, but certainly I would say that’s not what the original intent of the regulation has been.”
MASC’s compensation currently includes damage from deer, elk, moose, bear, ducks, geese, wood bison or sandhill cranes. Unlike those species, hunters need no licence to take out wild pigs. As a designated wild pig control zone, any resident of Manitoba may take a wild pig at any time, assuming other rules like land access and hunter orange clothing are followed, the province has said.
Hurdles around control, however, might put wild pigs on a different footing than other problem species a farmer might take care of on their own, experts say.
Jenelle Hamblin, manager of swine health programs with the Manitoba Pork Council, pointed to the specific challenges around controlling wild pigs.
Wild pig control is infamously tricky, and experts have warned that conventional hunting might actually make the problem worse.
Hunting experts, the Canadian Pork Council and the Manitoba Pork Council have all warned the public against conventional hunting, arguing that the practice serves to scatter the group of pigs — properly called a sounder. At the same time, according to experts like Ryan Brook, one of the researchers behind last year’s University of Saskatchewan study, conventional hunting often makes those pigs more shy, nocturnal and difficult to track.
“Sport hunting is not the answer,” he told the Manitoba Co-operator during an interview last year. “Experienced teams of hunters who have good communication and training and ideally have aircraft support can be very effective.”
Organizations have turned to a list of strategies in an attempt to stop the spread, from tagged “Judas pigs” that lead hunters back to the whole sounder, to live traps and aerial capture.
“With the limited control measures that are currently available and just the species themselves, the sheer ability to control them in an effective way, the research that’s been done to show what is necessary in order to minimize the populations and control their effects, I do think there would be validity to adding them to the MASC insurable crop insurance claim(s),” Hamblin said.
The Manitoba Pork Council attempted to spearhead a control program last year, only to run into a wall when faced with the sheer amount of labour needed to track, monitor, and effectively control the species.
The council joined forces with a wildlife association out of western Manitoba to target the area around Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Funds for the program were funnelled towards traps and equipment, although the program itself remained volunteer based, according to Hamblin.
The program was able to construct those traps and develop tracking plans, she said, but was limited by the lack of consistent manpower.
“Full-time effort, or at least dedicated effort to this situation, would be needed to have great success,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin also pointed to the need for consistent funding and resources to implement a more intense control program.
The Manitoba Pork Council has not yet announced any efforts to carry last year’s efforts into 2020, Hamblin said, although she said the council would welcome more collaboration with other groups.
“I think that if there was a project or an opportunity to continue to push this file forward, certainly Manitoba Pork Council would be interested in pursuing that,” she said.
A History of Wild Boar in Canada
- Wild boar were introduced in the 1980s and ’90s, as a diversification initiative.
- While escapes were expected, at the time it was thought they couldn’t survive Prairie winters.
- However,they quickly proved resourceful and adaptable enough to escape, survive and breed.
- Currently there are close to 10,000 animals in domestic production on 150 farms, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture.
- There is no formal monitoring program or reliable population estimates for feral populations in Western Canada.
- Recent research in the U.S. suggests that country has a population of approximately six million feral animals.