However, the delicate and unique ecosystem atop Roan Mountain is being ravaged by non-native wild hogs, a species experts believe was brought to the Northeast Tennessee mountains by game hunters.
For the past five years, representatives from the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have formed a Feral Hog Working Group, whose goal is to get the hog population in Roan Mountain under control.
While some wild pigs may have originated from farms, Conservancy Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett said the Russian boars were actively brought to Roan Mountain, and the surrounding area, for game hunting.
“They got released for hunting purposes, for sport, really with no regard for all the impact that they’re going to have,” Crockett said. “And they have a huge amount of impact on deer, on turkey, grouse, any ground-nesting bird. They’ll eat fawns. They tear up streams and eat salamanders. Pretty much any negative impact you could think of, these (hogs) do it.”
In addition to tearing up terrain and rare plants, especially those found atop the Roan, the wild boars carry a large appetite, which they use to compete with native species for food.
“They actually eat just about anything,” USDA Wildlife Services District Supervisor Keith Blanton said. “The biggest threat, probably, is they compete with other animals for mast, for acorns and things that deer, turkeys and everything else eats.”
As far as being dangerous, Blanton said wild boars are usually wary of people, but there are rare cases, especially if a female wild boar or sow with piglets is involved.
In 1999, the TWRA created a statewide wild hog season, with no harvest limit, in an attempt to reduce the numbers of three known hog populations in Tennessee, according to TWRA Wildlife Manager Scott Dykes, who serves on the working group.
“Unfortunately, that strategy backfired. Instead of going to the areas where wild hogs occurred and thinning the populations, people began relocating these nuisance animals in hopes of creating hog hunting opportunities ‘closer to home,’ Dykes said.
TWRA instituted a new management strategy in 2011 that reclassified wild hogs from being “game” to a “destructive species,” meaning they would be managed in ways other than sport hunting.
“The idea was ‘if you’re not allowed to fish in the pond, then you should have no desire to stock it.’ This strategy has worked, for the most part, but there are still (people) moving these destructive animals throughout the state,” Dykes said.
According to the Conservancy, trapping efforts have removed 40 to 50 hogs per year from Roan Mountain, but that amount is not nearly enough to get the population under control.
“The situation remains grim,” Crockett wrote in a blog post on the Conservancy’s website.
The challenge, according to Dykes, comes from the “prolific breeding” and “extreme intelligence” of the Russian boar species.
“It’s estimated that at least 70 percent of a wild hog population must be removed to only maintain the current numbers,” Dykes said. “For example, if there were 100 wild hogs in a population and we killed 70 of them, then this time next year, the remaining 30 hogs will replace themselves and there will once again be 100 wild hogs on the landscape.”
Dykes said the most effective strategy involves trapping a herd of hogs called a sounder, consisting of between seven and 75 female hogs and their offspring. While some may view the male boar as the “prize,” Dykes said the males are usually loners and does little for population control.
While experts believe the hogs have been on Roan Mountain for roughly a decade, the population of feral hogs nationwide has spread from 15 states to more than 40 states, Blanton said, causing an estimated $1.5 billion in annual environmental damage, mostly to crops.
“It’s a widespread problem, and that’s one of the reasons why the USDA got involved at the national level in trying to address it,” Blanton said.
The working group plans to continue monitoring the population through data pooling, citizen reports, GPS tracking collars and wildlife camera imagery.
Dykes said it’s currently illegal to possess, transport or release wild hogs in Tennessee.
However, landowners can shoot wild hogs during daylight hours year-round, without limit and with no license. They can also bait and trap hogs outside of regular big game seasons. Landowners can trap all year round and shoot hogs at night using spotlights if they call their TWRA regional office and obtain a permit. To renew the permit, landowners simply have to report the number of hogs killed and the means used to kill them.
Dykes, Blanton and Crockett strongly recommend that anyone who sees a wild boar report it.
For more information, visit the Conservancy’s website at https://appalachian.org/ or the USDA’s resource page at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/operational-activities/feral-swine.
Below are some safety tips from the Conservancy regarding wild hogs:
Invasive hogs can be aggressive, especially when defending their young. They may weigh up to 300 lbs, have sharp tusks, and can charge very quickly.
• Be alert! Know the signs and tracks of hogs and avoid heavily used areas, especially at dusk or dawn when hogs are most active. Feral hogs have been spotted ON the Appalachian Trail in the Roan, so please use heightened awareness when hiking in this area.
• Avoid water sources that have been used by invasive hogs – humans can contract multiple diseases from water sources contaminated by hogs and their feces.
• Hogs will generally try to avoid contact with humans, but may become aggressive if surprised, especially if piglets are present.
• If you encounter a hog on the trail, re-route your hike to avoid them. If a re-route is not possible, keep a safe distance and wait for the hogs to leave before continuing.
• If faced with an aggressive hog, the best option for protecting yourself is to climb the nearest tree.
• If directly charged by a hog, you should quickly sidestep out of the direction of the charge and climb the nearest tree or boulder.
• If using a firearm to protect yourself from a feral hog, ensure that it has enough knock-down power to be effective, otherwise it may be best to avoid the encounter and move to safety instead).