N.W.T. government wants to get ahead of 'hog problem'

Wild boar have made their way to Northern Alberta and British Columbia, and environment experts say they can wreak havoc on wildlife

'Once you have them it's nearly impossible to get rid of them,' says biodiversity and conservation manager

A wild boar spotted near Big River, Sask. in November 2016. (Ryan Brook)

The government of the Northwest Territories wants to let residents go hog-wild hunting one invasive species, wild boars—if, and when, they arrive in the territory.

Rob Gau, the manager of biodiversity and conservation with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the territorial government plans to classify wild boars and feral pigs as "pests" which would allow anyone to kill the animals, without a license, year-round.

The animals can harbour diseases. Tuberculosis and the lesser-known brucellosis can be transmitted to other wildlife by wild boars, said Gau.

Brucellosis from animals can also infect humans. The disease, which often first appears with flu-like symptoms, can cause "serious problems in your bones, joints, or heart" if untreated, according to the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are no known wild boars in the territory at the moment. However, Gau said the animals have been moving north from the provinces, and they have been seen at Highway 35 in Alberta, 300 kilometres from the territory's border. 

"This is a serious threat to our wildlife and habitat in the Northwest Territories," Gau said. "Once you have them it's nearly impossible to get rid of them."

Adding wild boar regulations would be part of an amendment to the territorial Wildlife Act passed in November 2014. At the time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not include regulations on boars because it did not have time to consult northerners.

A wild boar at night. Researcher Rob Gau says the boars are heading north to the N.W.T. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

'I don't think anyone wants a hog problem'

Wild boars are an invasive species. Most wild boars were introduced to Southern Canada in an effort to diversify agriculture around the 1980s. They were introduced as farm animals.

But some escaped and others were released.

The prolific breeders are hardy. With their long legs and snouts, and thick winter-proof fur, they quickly became a Canadian nuisance, said Alberta agriculture inspector Perry Abramenko.

Just ask Michael Herne, a hobby hunter who has harvested several wild hogs in the state of Georgia, where there may be between 200,000 and 600,000 feral hogs.

'I don't think anyone wants a hog problem," said Herne. 

Wild hogs in the United States are the same species as wild boar, and show many of the same behaviours. But they do look slightly different because of historical breeding. 

Is hunting enough?

Sport hunting alone has been questioned for its efficacy in fighting wild pigs.

"Georgia lets you hunt hogs day, night, all year long...even with that, it's still not enough to cull the population," Herne said, adding that pigs are smart, which makes hunting them a unique challenge.

"You're not going to trick one twice," Herne said. "If you use one technique on a specific learns real quick from that mistake."

Alberta is currently working on "field trials" about the best way to capture boars, and has a drone program to spot boars from the sky, Abramenko said. "We want to eradicate this animal from our landscape." 

Alberta is currently working on field trials to find the best way to capture wild boars. (Brian Keating)

Georgia has gone as far as using military-grade technology to combat its infestation.

Judas pigs— or sows with GPS collars— have also been used to locate and kill hard-to-find groups of the animals in the United States. After the group is killed, one sow is left to find another group, and eradication can continue.

Gau said the department has so far not considered using Judas pigs to manage wild boars.

Other amendments

Other possible amendments to the wildlife act include a ban on drones and mandatory training for new hunters without treaty rights.

Public feedback on proposed regulations will be taken until June 30 this year.

Gau said the department hopes to pass the new regulations by about March 2019. So if the boars arrive in the Northwest Territories before then, only people with Aboriginal treaty rights would be able to freely hunt the pests.

However, he said the minister of environment and natural resources would have the option of declaring an emergency to permit open-season boar hunting.

With files from Joanne Stassen