Feral hogs are a menace in parts of Missouri, so federal officials are taking to the skies to combat the wild animal that can destroy multiple acres of farmland in a single feeding frenzy.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a team with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service shot and killed 103 feral hogs this past week from a helicopter. Ninety-three hogs were on federal wilderness in southeast Missouri's Iron and Madison counties, and the other 10 on private land, killed with the owners' permission.
Most of Missouri's feral hog population is south of Interstate 44. The problem is most persistent in southeast Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Conservation, other agencies and private landowners killed 7,339 hogs through September of this year, 778 more than in 2017.
The so-called "aerial gunning activities" are used as a last resort for hard-to-catch hogs hiding in rugged terrain. Agents often leave hogs shot in aerial operations on site to decompose to feed back into the ecosystem.
Iron County Presiding Commissioner Jim Scaggs, a Democrat, said he tries to eliminate hogs on his 100-acre farm, but they reproduce quickly and have destroyed his crops at least three times.
"We replanted our crops, and they keep coming back," Skaggs said, adding that the latest roundup "doesn't even make a dent in them."
The aerial operations are part of a multi-year strategy by state and federal wildlife officials to eradicate the hogs.
"This strategic approach is important because if we leave even a few feral hogs behind in an area, they can reproduce quickly and put us back where we started," Mark McLain, a state feral hog official, said last month.
The state encourages landowners and hunters to not shoot feral hogs but instead report sightings to conservation agents, who theoretically will come in and trap the animals.
Alan Leary, Missouri's feral hog coordinator, said hunting hogs and killing only a few can scramble efforts to capture the entire group. There are also public health considerations for those who eat them since feral hogs carry diseases that are not found in pork available in grocery stores.
Some lawmakers think otherwise. State Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, believes the government is not effectively partnering with serious hunters and landowners.
Ross said it was "infuriating" agencies were leaving meat behind after hunts. "Pork is pork," he said. He sponsored a budget amendment this past legislative session that would have put more money toward feral hog eradication.
Scaggs deals with the problem himself by trapping hogs on his property, shooting and butchering them.
"I know there's a difference of opinion of how landowners are supposed to deal with these hogs," Scaggs said, "but I don't think there's enough resources between the federal government and the state government to deal with the invasion that we're encountering."