The time has come to ban wild boar farming in Alberta, say field men and municipal officials in the Peace.
“According to Alberta Agriculture’s information, there are only six or seven viable wild boar producers in the province,” said Normand Boulet, agricultural field man for the MD of Smoky River.
“Our feeling was that if we were to get rid of those wild boar once and for all, then we could go after the ones that are at large, exterminate them and rid them from the province — period — before they become an issue like they are in the United States.”
Wild boar are the most destructive invasive species south of the border, with an estimated four million to six million feral animals roaming the countryside. They not only destroy crops, but root up the ground so badly that fields have to be levelled before they can be planted again. In Texas, the worst-hit state, it’s estimated wild boars cause more than $400 million in damages annually.
And while feral boars haven’t been a major problem in Alberta, the threat can’t be discounted, said Boulet.
“In the 1990s, there were 200 or 300 animals running loose in Smoky River county, getting into feedstock, trampling grain and generally being a nuisance,” he said. “But also, people were quite worried. Your child is standing in the dark, waiting for the bus and there’s a potential for a mom and some piglets to come… these things end up being a wild animal and they’re very ferocious.”
That view is echoed by Phil Merrill, provincial pest and rat specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
“Our problem is in its infancy right now,” said Merrill. “We read or hear of horror stories in other counties and states that have really had a huge problem with wild boar. We don’t want to get into that situation. We’re trying to do our best to keep that from happening.”
From the Manitoba Co-operator website: Rules now on books to enforce hog traceability for July 1
Ban proposal fails
Harsh winters in 2005 and 2006 killed most of the wild boars in the Smoky River area, but the threat remains, Boulet said. That’s why in January, the agricultural services board in the MD of Smoky River proposed a ban on wild boar farms. The resolution passed at the regional level, but garnered only 40 per cent of votes at the provincial agricultural services board annual general meeting.
“It’s disappointing that it didn’t pass, but I guess people are concerned about people’s right to farm,” said Geoff Thompson, an agricultural services manager on leave from Lac Ste. Anne County, which has some of the province’s worst problems with wild boar.
There are no wild boar farms left in Lac Ste. Anne, but people say a local boar farmer who went out of business simply released his animals into the wild, said Thompson.
“The markets and the game farm system never took off, so there were a number of producers who were raising them who were just not making the money they were hoping to have made,” said Boulet. “Some killed their herds off, but others opened their gates and let them go.”
Since 2008, feral wild boars have been classed as pests under Alberta’s Agricultural Pest Act — which means they can be shot or snared without a licence.
There is also a bounty, with the province paying $50 for each pair of ears submitted. Last year, Lac Ste. Anne County collected 24 pairs of ears, with two or three collected by the MD of Smoky River, which pays an extra $50 per pair. About 800 boar have been killed in the bounty program.
While feral boars need to be eradicated, a ban on wild boar farming would be going too far, said Earl Hagman of Hog Wild Specialties, who has been raising the animals for both hunting and meat near Mayerthorpe since 1991.
“We have cattle and we have grain, but the wild boar is the most important part of the farm,” he said.
In the past, some operators may have turned wild boar loose, but that’s no longer the case today, he said.
“About 15 years ago, there were 200 people raising wild boar in Western Canada and now there might be a dozen,” said Hagman.
“The ones who are left are pretty responsible and are doing it as a living. Losing an animal to any of these producers would be like losing a cow. Nobody wants to lose one, so everybody works really hard to contain them.”
Boars are worth between $800 and $1,500 per animal, he said.
While fencing the animals properly is challenging, Hagman said people have cut his fences so they can hunt the boars after they escape.
“About four or five years ago, we had our fence cut 12 times in one year. It’s really difficult to monitor that,” said Hagman.
New fencing standards for wild boar farms were enacted in 2012, but operators have several years to comply.