Northwest states ask hunters to 'Squeal on Pigs'

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Wildlife officials in three Northwest states are intensifying their battle against wild swine by launching a campaign urging hunters, anglers, hikers and others to report any feral pig sighting on a public hotline.

The states of Idaho, Washington and Oregon on Monday unveiled "Squeal on Pigs," an effort designed to eradicate and curb the spread of feral pig populations and get a better sense of the population numbers.

The presence of the invasive and trouble-causing species across the three states varies.

Wildlife officials in Oregon estimate as many as 5,000 wild pigs are roaming the state, the majority of them migrating from northern California. There are no confirmed populations established in Washington, while wildlife officials in Idaho are keeping tabs on a small collection residing in the Bruneau Valley area in southwestern Idaho.

"Early detection and rapid response are key," said Amy Ferriter, invasive species coordinator in Idaho. "We recognize that eradicating small populations and minimizing the impacts of these invasive species is important to the economy and natural resources of the region."

Biologists describe feral pigs as any swine not confined in fences. Their spread is blamed by federal officials for an estimated $1.5 billion worth of damage to crops, livestock, wildlife and the ecosystem, and by some projections, more than 5 million wild pigs are rooting around in nearly every state. Feral pigs are also carriers of disease that pose a threat to livestock and humans, including swine brucellosis and pseudorabies.

The hairy, tusked pigs are native to Europe but have spread across the globe with the help of humans, in many cases hunters looking for a new challenge.

The pigs typically forage in areas around rivers or streams, and their destructive rooting behavior can increase erosion, degrade water quality and help spread noxious weeds.

So far, northwestern states are hoping a public awareness campaign will help curb the spread of wild swine in the region. The states are collaborating on a hotline or Swine Line for people to report sightings and provide other information critical to managing and eradicating the species.

But other states are taking a tougher approach. Michigan and Wisconsin have adopted a zero-tolerance policies that make rogue pigs an invasive species and illegal to possess. In Kentucky, anyone caught releasing wild hogs can face up to a year on jail and fines under a law that went into effect earlier this month.

In southern California, the U.S. Forest Service is taking public comment on a plan to kill hundreds of feral pigs living and multiplying outside of San Diego. In Texas, the government has sanctioned hunting wild hogs from helicopters to reduce numbers in some parts of the state.

"We're really just trying to enlist the public, along with hunters, fisherman, hikers, anyone who sees something resembling a wild pig, we want to know about it," said Wendy Brown, invasive species coordinator in Washington.

Brown said Washington had wild pigs released without state sanction in the early 1990s in the southwest corner, but state officials responded immediately and wiped out the population. But she said evidence confirms that a wild pig was hit and killed by hunters on all-terrain vehicles about five months ago.

"We still believe we don't have any established populations here," Brown said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press