Academic journal article Human Organization

Feral Hogs: Invasive Species or Nature's Bounty?

Academic journal article Human Organization

Feral Hogs: Invasive Species or Nature's Bounty?

Article excerpt

Invasive species have been identified as an international conservation crisis. Federal land managers have been mandated to control invasive species on their lands and to restore native species. Such action can have consequences for local communities that have incorporated the non-native species into their culture and economy. Previously managed by local stockmen as free-ranging livestock, feral hogs are now perceived by conservation professionals and advocates as an invasive species that threatens native plants and animals. We use the public scoping process associated with a proposed feral hog (Sus scrofa) management plan for a National Park Service managed biological preserve to examine how the scientific conceptualization of hogs as an invasive species undermines traditional claims to natural resources. We then offer some potential models of how elements associated with traditional stockmen culture might augment scientific management.

Key words: conservation, biodiversity, rural communities, national park, swine, pig, feral hog, invasive species, non-native, alien

Introduction

Managers of conservation lands (i.e., parks, preserves, state owned forests, and wildlife management areas) face myriad biophysical and social challenges. Biophysical challenges include habitat degradation due to over extraction, increasing land fragmentation with encroaching human development, erosion, pollution, invasive species, and species decline. Social challenges arise because conservation lands were not always designated as such. Many were once hunted, fished, foraged, mined, grazed, and/or lived on. As such, many of these lands are culturally, and often economically, important to the human communities near them.

This paper discusses the thorny social and biophysical issue of the control of non-native invasive species, specifically feral hogs, which are ubiquitous throughout Texas (Adams et al. 2005) and which resource managers in governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying control on their lands. It focuses on hog management in the Big Thicket National Preserve, a unit of the National Park Service (NPS) in East Texas. Feral hogs have been in the state of Texas since the 1500s and, although recognized as a nuisance and potential threat, are a source of income from recreational hunting, provide a living for professional trappers, and, importantly for the case described here, are part of community heritage, both as an economic and a cultural resource.

Conservation land managers consider feral hogs to be a non-native invasive species (NNIS). They are non-native, having been introduced into Texas by Spanish missionaries, and invasive, in that they rapidly reproduce and spread into new areas. As Head and Muir (2004) remind us, non-native and invasive are separate qualities. Given the right conditions, such as changing land use or land degradation, native species can also be invasive and not all introduced species become invasive. Mesquite in south Texas is an example of the former and the China rose is an example of the latter. As we discuss further on in this paper, local communities, hunters, and scientists in East Texas agree that hogs spread rapidly and, if not managed, can cause damage, i.e., that there can be too many. What is contested by the local communities we worked with in East Texas is the notion that feral hogs are not native, that they are out of place in the East Texas woods, and that they are of no ecological or social value. Also to be resolved is the issue of how many is too many.

To managers of conservation lands, the management goal concerning feral hogs is to drastically reduce, and preferably to eradicate, them. In several cases, this has put land managers at odds with local communities, especially local hunters. Nationally, a combination of approaches has been used: fencing, professional hunters, trapping, baiting, and public hunts (Bieber and Ruf 2005; Engeman et al. …

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