Editor’s note: As of Jan. 1, 2022, hunting wild pigs in Ontario will be illegal.
One key preventative measure will raise a lot of eyebrows among OOD readers: prohibiting the hunting of wild pigs. This move might seem counterintuitive, but it’s an important step in the effort to tackle this threat.
Hard on wildlife
Wild pigs are hard on native wildlife through competition (they eat the same things as native species), predation (they eat native species), and disease (they carry diseases that can affect native wildlife, livestock, and humans). While wild pigs might not wipe out Ontario’s native species (many states have large numbers of wild pigs and white-tailed deer), they would be an additional stressor on top of existing challenges.
Ontario’s deer face harsher winters than their southern relatives and they would additionally have to deal with wild pigs. Wild pigs are particularly tough on ground nesting birds, which in Ontario would include wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and spruce grouse. Wild pigs are an amphibious threat. Pigs don’t sweat and require water to cool off. This can lead to them destroying water quality and fish habitat through sedimentation, eating aquatic vegetation, and shedding of pathogens through feces.
Allowing such an invasive species to take root would be counter to the OFAH’s mandate to support fish and wildlife conservation and time-honoured traditions of fishing and hunting.
Ontario has advantages
When addressing the threat of wild pigs, Ontario has two advantages. First, the pigs we have appear to be recent farm escapes or pets. We’re not seeing larger groups of mixed ages, known as sounders, that would indicate they are reproducing in the wild. Second, we’re able draw on decades of management experience, especially from the United States. That experience has shown us what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.
Since 2019, the OFAH has been pushing the Ontario government to put this management experience into practice. Early government action included the launch of the Wild Pig Detectability Pilot Study, which uses trail cameras and traps to investigate sightings and remove wild pigs. In 2021, the government consulted on a Strategy to Address the Threat of Invasive Wild Pigs.
You can find our in-depth response at www.ofah.org/wildpigs.
The Strategy presented key actions for keeping Ontario free of wild pigs, such as listing them under the Invasive Species Act, phasing out the practice of wild boar farming, removing wild pigs from the environment, ensuring coordination between government ministries, and prohibiting the hunting of wild pigs.
Hunting as management
Hunting is fundamental to the effective management of wildlife in Ontario. Deer are a prime example, with the government’s own policies stating that “harvest management strategies are the primary methods used to help achieve the desired range in abundance of deer.” Hunting generates revenue while providing important traditions, special experiences, healthy meat, and economic growth.
Unfortunately, management experience in other jurisdictions shows that hunting does not work to control or eradicate wild pigs and can make the situation much worse. This has more to do with the pigs themselves than with hunting as they reproduce faster than any other mammal their size. A wild pig population can double their numbers annually as females can mature as young as five months of age and have two large litters per year.
Studies from the US have shown that hunters need to kill at least 70% of a wild pig population each year just to keep it from growing, a number that is rarely if ever achieved. To effectively eradicate wild pigs, the whole sounder needs to be removed at once and trapping is the most effective method. Hunting typically kills some but not all of the sounder, scattering and educating the survivors, which makes trapping even harder.
Pigs on the wing
People have moved pigs to create new hunting opportunities, contributing to the spread. But it’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of hunters are conservation-minded, law-abiding individuals and the actions of a few, who could also be landowners looking to charge pig hunters, do not reflect the attitudes of the entire hunting community. Nevertheless, genetic analysis and enforcement records in the United States have shown unequivocally that people have spread pigs and stating this fact is no more “anti-hunter” than condemning a poacher.
All together, these reasons build a solid case for prohibiting the hunting of wild pigs. However, this should not reflect poorly on Ontario’s hunters. The OFAH and the hunting community are the loudest voice calling for action on wild pigs and for the conservation of Ontario’s wildlife, fish, and native ecosystems. This needs to be clearly communicated so the broader public understands that Ontario’s hunters are not part of the problem but are in fact part of the solution, even if that doesn’t include pulling the trigger.
If you think you’ve seen a wild pig, take a photograph, mark your location, and contact the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Keith Munro is a Wildlife Biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in Peterborough. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published in The (OFAH) Insider in the Fall 2021 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine.