Pig fighters without borders

An international working group hopes to make the fight against wild pigs a consistent one

The fight against wild pigs will have a newly united front in Western Canada and the western United States, should recommendations published late last year by an international working group get their way.

Manitoba is among the provinces and states to throw its weight behind the body, which launched last year in an effort to take wild pig control to the next level.

The southern U.S. is the typical cautionary tale when Western Canada starts talking wild pigs, but in places like Montana, the largest wild pig threat comes from this side of the border.

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“We want to have a consistent message and strategy across the west,” Stephanie Criswell, Montana Invasive Species Council co-ordinator (and one of those involved with the working group), said.

In January of last year, local invasive species councils in Montana and Washington tested the waters on what would soon become an international gathering of government, academics, conservation organizations and others. Experts at both the state and U.S. federal level were brought on board, along with experts north of the border, such as the University of Saskatchewan’s Ryan Brook — a name that has become synonymous with wild pig research in Western Canada and whose Canadian Invasive Wild Pig Initiative helped inform the group’s eventual findings.

The newly minted Feral Swine Transboundary Working Group met for the first time on Feb. 21, 2020. A total 42 names were on the roster, including representatives from at least nine state governments, all four western Canadian provinces, various U.S. federal services, universities and livestock associations.

In December 2020, the group published its findings and recommendations. The group identified five areas of focus — co-ordination between interested groups: monitoring, reporting, response and control efforts.

Current monitoring efforts should be expanded, the group suggested, including more efforts with trail cameras, GPS, and partnerships with organizations like hunting groups and wildlife organizations. Proper population distribution maps should be prioritized in order to better single out risk areas, the report read, while monitoring efforts should also gauge distribution, density, disease and the rate pig populations are growing.

There is little idea of what Canada’s wild pig population actually is, Brook has repeatedly told media. His own work counts the number of wild pig instances (every piece of evidence that the animals are in the area) in a municipality rather than a true population count.

Some of that work could be added to similar programs that already exist for other species, the group noted, such as USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services efforts in surveying coyotes.

The working group also highlighted initiatives like the Squeal on Pigs campaign — which distributes educational resources and offers a common point of contact for reporting in regions where it has been adopted.

The province of Manitoba has confirmed the Squeal on Pigs campaign is on its radar.

“The province has a growing concern regarding wild pigs due to their negative impacts to ecological and agricultural resources, as well as spread of disease,” a representative from Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development said earlier this year. “We are currently reviewing our management strategy and future activities may include control zones, as well as adopting some aspects of the Squeal on Pigs initiative.”

The province also noted the “support and work of wildlife groups and other collaborators that are using recognized, permitted methods to control wild pigs in their areas.”

Reporting protocols should also be standard across regions to bolster co-ordination, the working group argued, while cross-border protocols should be established.

The group has maintained mechanisms for members to keep in contact, Criswell noted.

“One of the values of that is jurisdictions that are closer together can talk about how they want to deal with sightings that are close to their borders,” she said. “So, for example, I know that British Columbia and Washington have met and they’re working on a notification process where, if they spot a pig ‘x’ miles from the border… then they share that report.”

Other recommendations would set out standard data collection and sharing, report response times, consistent messaging around things like recreational hunting — something Montana does not allow, arguing that recreational hunting often scatters a group of pigs and spreads the problem, while both Manitoba and Saskatchewan maintain open hunting year round — resource sharing, agreements with landowners, land management agencies and local First Nations, and priorities for further research.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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