EDWARD Avalos, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's marketing and regulatory programs, announced that USDA is kicking off a national effort to reduce the devastating damage caused by feral, or free-ranging, swine.
The $20 million program aims to help states deal with a rapidly expanding population of invasive wild swine that causes $1.5 billion in annual costs for damage and control.
"Feral swine are one of the most destructive invaders a state can have," Avalos said. "They have expanded their range from 17 to 39 states in the last 30 years and cause damage to crops, kill young livestock, destroy property, harm natural resources and carry diseases that threaten other animals, as well as people and water supplies. It's critical that we act now to begin appropriate management of this costly problem."
The Wildlife Services program of USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will lead the effort, tailoring activities to each state's circumstance and working closely with other federal, state, tribal and local entities.
Wildlife Services will work directly with states to control populations, test animals for diseases and research better methods of managing feral swine damage. A key part of the national program will include surveillance and disease monitoring to protect the health of domesticated swine.
Feral swine have become a serious problem, carrying diseases that can affect people, domesticated animals, livestock and wildlife, as well as local water supplies. They also kill young animals and cause damage to field and high-value crops of all kinds.
Their characteristic rooting and wallowing damages natural resources, including resources used by native waterfowl, as well as archeological and recreational lands. Feral swine compete for food with native wildlife such as deer and consume the eggs of ground-nesting birds and endangered species such as sea turtles.
"In addition to the costly damage to agricultural and natural resources, the diseases these animals carry present a real threat to our swine populations," Avalos said. "Feral swine are able to carry and transmit up to 30 diseases and 37 different parasites to livestock, people, pets and wildlife, so surveillance and disease monitoring are another keystone to this program."
As part of the national program, APHIS will test feral swine for diseases of concern to U.S. pork producers, such as classical swine fever, which currently does not exist in the U.S., as well as swine brucellosis, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza and pseudorabies. Ensuring that domesticated swine are not threatened by disease from feral swine helps ensure that U.S. export markets remain open.
APHIS aims to have the program operating within six months, and funding for the comprehensive project includes, among other things:
* $9.5 million for state projects;
* $1.4 million to establish procedures for disease monitoring, including the development of new surveillance and vaccination methods;
* $1.5 million for the Wildlife Services' National Wildlife Research Center to conduct research and economic analyses to improve control practices, and
* $1.6 million to centralize control operations and to make them safer and more cost-effective.
Initial state funding levels will be based on current feral swine populations and associated damage to resources. Because feral swine populations cross international borders, APHIS will also coordinate with Canada and Mexico on feral swine damage management.
"We've already begun this type of work through a pilot program in New Mexico," Avalos said. "Through this pilot program, we have successfully removed feral swine from 1.4 million acres of land. By applying the techniques such as trap monitors and surveillance cameras we have developed through this pilot project, we aim to eliminate feral swine from two states every three to five years and stabilize feral swine damage within 10 years."