Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Helicopter gunner will target feral hogs at Ozark National Scenic Riverways park

A conservation agent armed with a semiautomatic.308-caliber rifle will be shooting feral hogs from a helicopter in an area of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways next week.

Both sides of the Current River between the mouth of Big Spring and the park's southern boundary at Gooseneck will be closed to hikers and visitors on Monday and Tuesday. Day-use areas and campgrounds within that aerial hunting footprint also will be closed, according to park officials.

Big Spring and the nearby campground, pavilions, and boat launch will not be affected and will remain open to the public, according to park officials. Big Spring is located south of Van Buren, and the area involved in the aerial shooting is approximately 15 miles long.

It's the first time helicopters will be used to help eradicate feral hogs within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways park, according to park officials.

"Aerial gunning is one of the tools we have available to us, which we don't use often, but is effective in certain situations," said Alan Leary, feral hog coordinator with the conservation department. "It's one shooter and one pilot flying the helicopter. Our goal is to eradicate all of them, as many as we can, 100 percent."

Leary said a helicopter is useful during winter months because trees have shed their leaves and hogs are more easily seen on the ground. He said the conservation department has done some feral hog trapping on ONSR land, but are using the helicopter in conjunction with trapping to remove as many hogs as possible.

"They definitely have some damage from hogs down there, yes," Leary said. "There's damage to agriculture and damage to the natural communities that are within the park."

According to Missouri Department of Conservation, feral hogs and wild boars can spread diseases to livestock, tear up pastures and fields with their rooting behavior and contaminate water sources by wallowing in them. Feral hogs also compete with native Missouri species by eating acorns and other sources of food that native animals rely on.

The two-day eradication effort is a joint project between ONSR, the MDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. All aerial shooting will be conducted over public lands, according to an ONSR news release.

Leary said tissue samples will be taken from some of the hogs to test for various diseases wild pigs can carry. The carcasses will be left to decompose and provide food for other native animals like coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other carnivores.

It's possible this weekend's winter weather and possible ice storm could postpone the aerial shoot, Leary said. Any changes would be announced on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways website or Facebook page.

The conservation department has been trying to eradicate feral hogs from Missouri for years. They are considered a non-native, invasive species and are not considered to be wildlife under the state's wildlife code.

Source:   http://www.news-leader.com

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