Despite horrible flying conditions that kept the crew grounded most of the week, aerial operations over southeast Arkansas managed to remove 121 feral pigs from public and private land in Arkansas and Drew counties from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16.
The helicopter used in the operation was only able to fly for brief windows over three days due to extreme rain, wind and fog that caused unsafe flying conditions.
The original plan included flights over portions of Trusten Holder, Seven Devils, Cut-off Creek, Freddie Black Choctaw Island and St. Francis Sunken Lands wildlife management areas, but extremely poor weather allowed the pilots to only fly over Trusten Holder and a few private lands during the window available for the operation.
The operation was a joint effort between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services Division. It is the second such attempt for aerial eradication efforts in as many years. The first effort last year saw much better flying conditions and resulted in 615 feral hogs removed from public and private land.
“A specially trained pilot and gunner from USDA APHIS do all the flying and shooting, and they are only available to us for a short time,” said J.P. Fairhead, feral hog program coordinator for the AGFC. “Due to federal safety restrictions and space limitations in the helicopter, we can’t even be onboard while the flights are taking place. Our role is to close access to the area being flown to prevent any safety issues.”
According to Fairhead, aerial eradication is used in conjunction with the AGFC’s large-scale trapping efforts to control the spread of feral pigs, which cause millions of dollars in damage to agricultural lands and forests in Arkansas each year and destroy habitat for deer and other native wildlife. They also wreak havoc on the nests of ground-nesting birds, including wild turkeys and quail.
Feral pigs may be killed day or night 365 days a year on private land, which makes up 87 percent of Arkansas. On many AGFC-managed wildlife management areas, feral hogs may be killed by hunters pursuing deer, bear or elk during a firearms season for those animals or with archery equipment from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Some small wildlife management areas that have no signs of feral hog presence are closed to feral hog hunting to reduce the incentive to release pigs on the property for future sport hunting.