Hunting has long been not only a part of Wisconsin's cultural heritage, but also a way to control the state's deer population. Last year, 642,000 licensed hunters killed over 350 thousand deer, according to a report by Madison's WKOW. But for this year's gun season, in addition to that 30-point buck, the Wisconsin DNR is encouraging hunters to set their sights on another prey: pigs.
They're not talking about domestic pigs on farms (in fact, shooting a domestic pig this season could result in a fine to replace the animal). Instead, the DNR wants hunters to help reduce feral, or wild, pig populations during this year's gun season, which begins November 21. Although pigs might not sound like a particularly menacing threat to the state, feral pigs are a concern not only because of their potential to spread exotic diseases to domestic animals, but also because they are destructive to Wisconsin ecosystems.
The DNR describes feral pigs as "exotic, non-native wild animals that pose significant threats to both the environment and to agricultural operations," according to this fact sheet. Originally native to Europe and Asia, feral pigs either escaped from hunting preserves in America or were intentionally introduced into the wild. In addition to being possible sources of disease for livestock, feral pigs damage native species while rooting for food and have been known to prey on domestic animals. So far, they have been reported in over half of Wisconsin's 72 counties. And Wisconsin residents have begun to take notice.
"There are a lot of them in the national forests up north. They're actually sort of a problem. People hit them with their cars," said Ben Rosemeyer, 21, a UW-Madison student who hunts regularly.
Rosemeyer is from Colby, Wis., which is located near areas where feral pigs have been sighted. While he hasn't personally seen a feral pig where he hunts near Gilman, Wis., he said he would follow the DNR's instructions should the occasion arise.
"There's none around where I hunt, but if I see one, sure, I'd shoot it," Rosemeyer said.
While the gun deer season lasts only nine days, this isn't the only window for feral pig control. Landowners are allowed to shoot feral pigs on their property without a license, while hunters with a small game license may shoot feral pigs throughout the year.
The call for hunters to shoot feral pigs as well demonstrates the role of humans in stabilizing ecosystems. One of the most significant features of exotic invasive species -- animal, plant or otherwise -- is the lack of natural predators in the areas they invade. While there are still some top predators in Wisconsin, such as black bears and wolves, humans can also fill this role in the ecosystem when other predators are scarce. Just as hunters can stop deer populations from skyrocketing, they can also help prevent further environmental and agricultural destruction by shooting pigs.
And, as top predators in Wisconsin's ecosystem, hunters have an added bonus. Wild pig, according to the DNR, has been described as even tastier than its domestic relative.