BILLINGS — Keeping feral swine out of Big Sky Country is a top priority of the Montana Department of Livestock, and for good reason.
The agency is asking people to remain vigilant about the presence of feral swine. Although there have been no confirmed sightings in Montana, populations are spreading and the risk of introduction is high.
"Feral swine are of a little bit a unique invasive species in the sense that they hit a very wide spectrum of agriculture and beyond. They damage the environment through rooting and nesting behavior. They're also predatory and carry diseases that can be transmitted to domestic livestock, certainly pig species, but also cattle, wildlife and even people. So, just the amount of damage that they're capable of causing is really the reason that we focus on them," said Tahnee Szymanski of the livestock department.
She explained, "When they root, they can really tear up lawns, golf courses, riparian areas. They can be predatory, so they can have an impact on small ground nesting birds. They can destroy crops, so there’s kind of a wide swath of agriculture industry here in Montana that we worry about with their introduction."
She says while Montana law permits a private landowner to eradicate feral swine on their land, they’re asked to report the sightings because of the challenge of successfully eradicating the entire group.
"The way that the current law is written, it does allow for a landowner that finds feral swine on their property to shoot those animals if they're concerned about imminent damage that swine may cause. We would ask producers to reconsider whether they shoot first and then call us or whether they call us directly to report them for a couple of reasons. I think most commonly you may see three or four pigs that they may be part of a larger group. So you won't effectively get rid of all of them," Szymanski said.
Introduced from Europe, wild pigs have spread to 38 states and several Canadian provinces, with a recent report just north of Montana’s border, making them a highly adaptive animal that Montana wants to keep out.
Maggie Nutter and family ranch near Sweetgrass in northern Montana. She says Montana doesn’t need another invasion species like feral hogs that threaten her way of life.
“This is going to be a huge issue,” said Nutter. “If you look at the damage that has been done down south by feral pigs, it's amazing. But you look at the stuff that's happening up in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and if you talk to some of the producers up there, it's a scary thing. We can't afford the diseases that might come with it and we can't afford the damage to our crops.”
Montana officials encourage people to "squeal on pigs" and report feral hogs to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks officials at 406-444-2976.