Arkansas woodworker Doug Stowe and his spouse Jean Elderwind, a retired county librarian, live peacefully on a forested ridge above Leatherwood Creek north of Eureka Springs.
Late last winter, the peace was broken.
“That’s when we noticed our rock walls that my wife and I have been tending for thirty years were being pushed aside and toppled, the dirt thrown aside,” and the long-established perennials upended, Stowe says.
The couple thought it was a one-time occurrence and paid to have the damage repaired. But then it happened again. And again. They were mystified.
They thought they had an armadillo problem — armadillos root through dirt in search of grubs. But armadillos can't heave heavy rock.
Eventually the spotted the suspects: feral swine lurking in the woods below their back deck.
After learning his neighbors were also dealing with destructive wild pigs, Doug Stowe contacted the Carroll County Quorum Court for assistance.
He’s still waiting for a response.
Meanwhile, he’s asked a local hunter, Ken Anderson, for help. Anderson lives in the area and understands the menace.
“The state of Arkansas says feral swine are a nuisance and vermin,” Anderson says.
He’s right. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission declare feral swine, now documented in every county, to be a public threat.
Nationwide, five million of these pigs — descendants of Eurasian wild boar which have escaped from pens, or released by hunters for sport are spreading across 38 states including Arkansas.
Feral hogs are voracious omnivores. They root through forests and destroy native plants. They can wallow up a 20-acre farm field overnight. And they prey on young livestock.
The boars weigh more than 200 pounds, roam in solitude and inseminate sows, which can produce more than a dozen piglets per season. These sows and their piglets form “sounders” — packs — for protection, exploring and learning the terrain. Pigs are adept at avoiding hazards such as traps.
Arkansas wildlife agencies are collaborating to contain the situation, but Carroll County locals believe as many as two thousand wild hogs, each with a lifespan of about eight years, lurk in the deep, craggy, spring-fed hollows of the Lake Leatherwood Watershed.
Experts say hunting only disperses feral swine, but trapping is effective. And that's what Stowe's contract hunter Ken Anderson did, building a large round corral trap. Made out of metal fencing and heavy stakes, the trap has an automatic hatch and a night vision camera. The hogs are allowed to wander in and out of the pen to feast on piles of field corn (the bait is soaked in diesel fuel to deter deer and racoon), and once filled with enough swine the hatch is manually triggered shut. Trapped swine are killed and removed.
While the traps, experts say, should be periodically moved, given pigs educate each other about potential life hazards, Stowe plans to maintain the trap in place.
A mile west of Stowe’s homestead, feral swine are also infesting remote Lake Leatherwood Park, a historic 1600-acre preserve operated by the city of Eureka Springs.
Parks & Recreation Director Justin Huss is charged with removing them.
“Locals refer to it as ‘Jurassic Park,’” Huss says, referring to where the swine are hiding out. “The habitat is so raw and untouched. It’s like we’re harboring fugitives. But you can see where they root. It looks like a giant rototiller came through the park.”
The park now has several traps in place to contain the swine.
Some speculate the hogs are migrating south through the White River Valley from Missouri. One riparian landowner, west of Leatherwood Park, who declined to be identified, says he’s killed well over 200 swine over the past two years.
Sections of the southern Missouri Ozarks are declared feral swine hot spots and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and state game officials are working to eradicate the hogs. The DNR periodically deploys squadrons of hired guns to annihilate herds on public land, shooting the animals from helicopters. Group hunts, rather than single hunting expeditions, are more successful in reducing feral swine populations DNR experts say.
Such extreme measures are unlikely to take place on the Lake Leatherwood watershed, but small gangs of native Ozark hunters and individual trappers across the county are taking matters into their own hands.
After all, generations of Arkansans have harvested wild pork, said to have a nutty, sweet flavor.
With the influx of wild pigs on Leatherwood Watershed, Doug Stowe says he and his neighbors have talked about trapping hogs for butcher and sale at local markets. But Bob Wilson, who’s operated Bubba’s BBQ in Eureka Springs for 38 years says there’s a few disincentives for that kind of harm-to-table turnabout.
“I’d say don’t eat it,” he says. “It’s not worth taking a chance.”
Wilson’s aware that wild swine carry virus, bacteria, and parasites, infectious to humans, pets and livestock, and that any pork sold to the public must adhere to strict guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Needless to say, there will be no wild boar on Bubba’s menu.
Even a nearby wildlife sanctuary, Turpentine Creek, which houses dozens of lions, panthers, cougars and bears, refuses to take feral swine carcasses for its carnivores.
Clinton Turnage, a USDA Wildlife Disease Biologist based in Arkansas, conducts feral swine surveillance across the state. The disease vectors vary widely in hog populations, he says, but the ones that have been proven are scary.
“We are seeing swine Brucellosis, Influenza A virus, Pseudo-rabies, Hepatitis, and some Leptospirosis.”
Feral swine also carry Trichinellosis, a caused by roundworms and the Herpes virus, he says.
“The greatest risk for exposure is field dressing the animal,” he said, meaning gutting the animals and harvesting choice cuts after a kill. Protective gloves and clothing are necessary, he says.
Many hunters, including Ken Anderson, haul exterminated feral swine into the forest or leave on the field for wildlife to scavenge.
Rebecca McPeake, with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and Arkansas Forest Resource Center, says local wild carnivores relish the meat.
“There’s lots of animals that will take advantage of that carcass,” she says, “including vultures and coyotes."
Fortunately, an abundance of vultures and coyotes inhabit the Arkansas Ozarks, and it looks like they will be busy into the foreseeable future, grooming the landscape.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.