By NATHAN GREGORY
Imagine a job in Mississippi (other than politician and football coach) where one big group of people loves you and another one, well, doesn’t.
Believe it or not, such jobs exist.
They are held by technicians who kill feral hogs for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services, which has a research station on the Mississippi State University campus. To combat the state’s problematic, destructive wild hog population, Wildlife Services officials shoot the animals during helicopter flights over some federal and private properties. These aerial hunting expeditions are in compliance with national policies and practices.
This program makes the technicians heroes to the state’s agricultural producers, but it also makes them very unpopular among sportsmen who like to hunt hogs. Unfortunately, wild hogs cause too much havoc to be worth keeping them around as game animals.
Each year, wild hogs cause more than $66 million in damage to crops, livestock and property in Mississippi. Chances are good that you or someone you know has experienced these problems firsthand. As an invasive species, wild hogs threaten native wildlife including white-tailed deer, turkeys, quail and other popular game. Wild hogs eat eggs of ground-nesting birds and turtles; they sometimes even eat baby animals. They compete for food sources with many species of native wildlife, and they destroy vital wild habitats.
As the state’s largest informal education provider, the MSU Extension Service is working to teach Mississippians what they can do to gradually help solve this problem. The Office of Agricultural Communications, the communications unit of MSU Extension, is launching Operation HOG (Hold Our Ground), a public education campaign designed to inform Mississippians of the dangers feral hogs pose, as well as ways to trap and kill them.
Unlike Wildlife Services agents, we don’t have guns, but we do have broadcasters, writers, social media coordinators, and graphic and web designers who are working to get the word out. Over the coming months, you’ll likely see a variety of information released through newspapers, television, radio, printed material and social media. These materials also will be available at http://extension.msstate.edu/operationhog.
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are partnering with MSU Extension and USDA in this effort.
There are four main goals we hope to achieve with Operation HOG. First, we want to convey the magnitude and cost of damage wild hogs do to farms, forestland and deer plots. Second, we want to educate the public about the diseases hogs carry and the negative effects they have on wildlife and water quality. Third, we want to teach landowners about safe methods for trapping and killing wild hogs. Fourth, we want to promote the precautions landowners and hunters should follow after they kill hogs.
We also want everyone to know they can call 1-800-BE-SMART to report hog sightings. Call this number, too, if you know of anyone who illegally transports and releases hogs into the wild.
The future of Mississippi farms, land and wildlife depends on hunters understanding that wild hogs are pests, not trophies. We must hold our ground to win the fight against these invaders.