One year into a study of feral wild board in southeast Saskatchewan, University of Saskatchewan graduate student Ryan Powers says, “A recent survey of R.M.s (rural municipalities) in Saskatchewan suggests that feral wild boar are widespread and very in abundance throughout the province.”
Powers and research assistant Shelby Adams began work on the project in the fall of 2014. The study is led by Dr. Ryan Brook of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, who has been an advocate for gaining a better understanding of the feral wild boar problem for a number of years. The The Moose Mountain Wild Boar Eradication Committee (MMWBEC) has been actively working to eradicate feral wild boar for over 15 years, when it became apparent that the introduction of wild boar to this area aided destruction rather than diversification.
“The Moose Mountain Wild Boar Eradication Committee has provided us with invaluable knowledge and assistance from their members,” says Powers.
Wild boar were first introduced to Saskatchewan in the 1990s. They were intended to aid agricultural diversification, but even as a very few animals escaped, their rapid rates of reproduction, their easy adaptation to varied environments and their destructive capabilities meant trouble for local farmers and ranchers as well as native wildlife and area ecosystems.
Local rancher and MMWBEC member, Bob Brickley of Kennedy told The Observer in 2015: “The situation started about 14 years ago when the first wild boar were introduced into this area. The boars would do crop damage and terrorize domestic livestock, so local producers started to deal with it independently, like most of the problems they have, but it became evident an organized effort to eradicate them was necessary.”
“Our biggest challenge has been our animals,” added Brickley. “We had a quarter section of swaths for grazing...wild boar foraged the crop and they're not like elk, deer, or moose; they root it up and work across the field unless you do something about it. There's no salvaging it; the cattle won't graze there because of the urine and manure. Everything avoids them.”
“It was apparent there was no agricultural damage, but the wild boars were cleaning nests out of birds, ducks, and song birds too, so it's something that needs to be taken seriously.”
“In the years I've been doing this, there's about eight to 12 people who have spent thousands of personal hours and there were times we were quite confident there were no more in the back country of the park,” continued Brickley. “Two percent escape annually on average, though, so as long as there are commercial operations, there's going to be escapees and if we don't do something to stop them, we will see millions or billions of dollars’ worth of loss due to wild boar, like the southern United States.”
Powers agrees “Wild boar adapt to a wide range of habitats. They're opportunistic omnivores that eat almost anything and everything they find and they're prolific breeders.”
“The damage they cause is tremendous-the damage to agriculture, property and the environment is hard to quantify,” says Powers. “But in Texas alone, feral swine cause an estimated $59 million in damage annually.”
Powers says wild boar can also pose potential health risks. “In the U.S., feral swine are capable of carrying at least 30 different viruses and bacteria as well as 37 species of parasites.”
Powers says that knowledge gathered in this study can provide a better understanding of feral wild boar ecology and aid various stakeholders when developing management plans for instance.
“In the U.S., methods to control feral swine are continually being researched and developed to aid in the reduction and elimination of populations.
Those attending the meeting shared a sense of urgency to be proactive about ridding the province of wild boar.
“We have learned the hard way,” says Brickley. “We need to have credibility and we need to have research projects like this as no one can do it themselves. We need a combined effort to ensure wild boar are eradicated and that population numbers do not increase.”
“We've been battling this for 16 years and if we don't take it seriously, it will get worse and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be dealing with it.”
“People in urban areas don't recognize what it can potentially to do to their recreational opportunities-golf courses are just one example,” says Brickley.
“We need to make the decision-makers aware of the seriousness of this problem and we need to get the word out to the average person. That's part of our current challenge.”
Note: It is illegal to hunt wild boar in the back country of Moose Mountain Provincial Park. Any sightings should be reported to the park office or the MMWBEC.