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LSU AgCenter surveys asking farmers, landowners to report details of feral hog damage

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Feral hogs are rooting up levees and snarfing down crops all around Louisiana, but nobody's sure just how much damage they're doing. The LSU AgCenter is working to get a handle on that with a pair of surveys.

Forestry economist Shaun Tanger says he's sending a link to a quick Internet survey to about a dozen groups and agencies which will send the link to their members or contact lists. The AgCenter is also buying a mailing list for a six-page survey that will be sent to about 3,000 randomly chosen farmers and agricultural landowners and managers for a scientifically valid survey.

The online survey probably will be available for a month and it could take another month to get all the statistics worked out, he said. Groups and agencies to which that link is being sent include the Louisiana Farm Bureau, county extension agents, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates feral swine cost the nation about $1.5 billion a year, including $800 million in damage to farms. However, there have been few statewide surveys. Texas has estimated its annual damage at $50 million since 2005. A survey of Georgia farmers estimated damage in 2011 at more than $81 million.

Feral swine root up seed corn and soybeans. They graze on young soybeans and trample tall corn, taking a bite or two out of each ear. They've been known to root up levees in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. In woodlands, they eat acorns and mast that would otherwise be available to deer and wildfowl.

And they reproduce so fast that 70 percent of an area's feral hogs must be killed each year just to keep even.

"The females begin reproducing at around 10 months of age and can have up to two litters of four to eight piglets each per year," Tanger said.

The wily animals quickly learn to avoid traps. And hunters have come nowhere near keeping up with the pigs.

Louisiana's first bare-bones online survey will offer a glance at the problem within months, indicating which parishes and crops are hardest hit and the damage's cost, Tanger said.

He said the 6-page survey, co-authored by LSU AgCenter forest products professor Richard Vlosky and AgCenter wildlife and fisheries specialist Michael Kaller, will be mailed sometime in the next weeks. "I should start getting results back at the end of December or beginning of January," he said.

One reason for the online survey, he said, is to be sure there's some information about the hogs' statewide effects before the Legislature meets next April, to back up requests for money to study and ultimately control wild swine.

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