I am back on the trail of wild boars in Western Canada after a call from a farmer at Moosomin, in southeast Saskatchewan, who asked if there had been any progress in controlling or eradicating the pest. The short answer — no. From what I can see, the wild boar numbers appear to be increasing, but one positive is awareness of the problem is also increasing.
I wrote in a column last year referencing work being done by Ryan Brook, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Saskatchewan, who has been studying the wild boar problem for at least a decade. He heads up the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project.
Brook is working to raise awareness of the mounting physical and economic damage wild boars are causing agriculture and the Canadian economy. He’s calling for a national strategy to control or eradicate wild boar. It is a serious problem that demands more than lip service.
And it appears awareness is increasing. According to a report by Barb Glen in the Western Producer, Alberta Agriculture and Parks personnel have recently completed a three-year pilot project designed to figure out the scope of the problem, educate the public about the invasive pests and test different means of surveillance and capture. That project will result in eradication recommendations.
Perry Abramenko, pest specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Parks, said a system involving a sturdy enclosure with remote-controlled gate has proven effective in trapping groups of pigs, called sounders, so they can be killed.
“We want to eradicate, not educate, the ones that get away,” Abramenko said during a webinar organized by the Alberta Invasive Species Council. Wild boars have been identified in 24 rural Alberta municipalities, with the largest concentration in Lac Ste. Anne and Woodlands, northwest of Edmonton. Alberta Agriculture has a trapper on contract working in that area. Abramenko estimates there are hundreds, if not thousands, of feral pigs in the province. If you see some let him know by email at AF.Wild [email protected]
And a provincial distribution map shows wild boars are in all parts of Saskatchewan. They aren’t in every municipality, but they are certainly in every region, with the heaviest concentration in the St. Brieux area, about 90 minutes northeast of Saskatoon.
In a published report, Brook said, “If you drew a 50-mile circle around St. Brieux, that area is by far the hotspot in Canada,” which he described as a “permanent hotspot for pigs — for the next thousand years they’ll be there.”
Brook says the concentration of pigs is likely due to the number of wild boar farms in the area at one time, where wild boars escaped or were released. Combine that with good bush cover, wetlands and agricultural crops, and the hardy and prolific animals have flourished.
And Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) says it has a researcher in Brandon working on the wild boar problem in Manitoba, where they are now considered an invasive species. The pigs are particularly well established around the Spruce Woods area, near the Swan Lake Watershed, one of the four watersheds participating in Living Lab-Eastern Prairies, says an AAFC report.
“In Manitoba, wild pigs can certainly affect the competitiveness of the industry,” says Melanie Dubois.
“The issue also acts as a disincentive for producers to adopt a more ecological approach to agriculture and reduces their willingness to maintain wildlife habitat on their land, if those areas are thought to harbour wild pigs.
Dubois, a biodiversity specialist at AAFC in Brandon, Man., and a researcher with Living Lab-Eastern Prairies, is also collaborating with Brooks at the U of S. All provinces want to hear reports of wild boar sightings or damage. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has a comprehensive list of contacts on the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative website.