Monday, September 5, 2011

Wild Boar in the Adirondacks?

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Wildlife is currently trying to develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of wild boars (Sus scrofa) in New York State. Small populations of these sizeable beasts have become established in several sections of the State over the past decade and are wreaking havoc with the local environment in those areas. Because of their adaptability and resourcefulness, it is feared that their numbers could greatly expand if measures are not immediately taken to eradicate this invasive species from the general environment.

Many people believe that the Adirondacks, with its lack of agricultural areas, harsh climate and rugged terrain would naturally discourage any free roaming wild boars from wandering into the region and setting up residence here. However, these hardy, tusked creatures are well suited for an existence in a northern wilderness, and history has demonstrated that they could survive in this type of ecological setting.

In 1901, Edward Litchfield, an ultra-wealthy attorney and financier, released 13 wild boars in an enclosure at his sprawling preserve located just south of Tupper Lake. Because of the difficulty in maintaining the integrity of the fence around the more than one square mile tract of land in which the wild boars were placed, some, or all, of them escaped into the surrounding forest. Reports of wild boars from the many loggers that worked in the woods in that general area during that period persisted for more than two decades. At this time, the conservation era was still in its infancy, and many older backwoodsmen felt that it was still their right to shoot any game animal they happened to encounter. Eventually, this population disappeared, but it was able to sustain itself for over twenty years.

In a similar type of event, a wild boar preserve was established in Central New Hampshire in 1899 by a wealthy landowner. Some of these animals were also able to escape and established a local population. These wild boars also provided hunters as far away as Vermont with an exotic species of game to pursue, and it was not until 1961 when the last wild boar was reported killed in the wilds of the Granite State.

Both of these wild boar incidents occurred several generations ago, before our climate experienced noticeable moderations. While deep snow would seem to limit this rather short-legged animal’s ability to travel during winter, the toes of the wild boar are able to spread far apart, allowing it to move more easily than a white-tail in places with a substantial snow pack. Also the more compact body shape of the wild board, its thick hide, and layers of fat enable it to tolerate temperatures that are well below zero. In Europe, wild boars are able to flourish in areas that have just as severe a climate as the Central Adirondacks.

Some people point out that both of these long ago incidents occurred prior to the introduction of the eastern coyote to our fauna. In Europe, centuries ago, wild boars were known to exist in the same stretches of forests in which packs of wolves roamed. It is doubtful that the Adirondack coyote, known for it ability to kill deer, would have much of an impact on any population of wild boars which are renowned for their aggressive temperament and ability to defend themselves with their sharp tusks when they feel threatened.

It would not take much for a few of these wily creatures, which are presently just south of the Blue Line, to make their way into our forests and become an established part of our fauna. The Adirondack backcountry no longer contains lumber camps occupied by individuals that enjoy dining on wild game. Also, hunting is not as popular among the general public as it once was, and individuals toting firearms into the woods are a rarity. Should wild boars enter the Park, they would have few controls that would limit their numbers.

The notion of the very elusive wild boar roaming the forests of the Adirondacks is becoming more real. It has been shown time and time again that once an invasive species enters an area, it becomes increasingly harder to eradicate with the passage of time.

It is impossible to predict what impact a population of wild boars would have on the Adirondack environment, however, most individuals would just as soon spend their time contemplating the means to prevent their entrance into our wildlife community rather than their effect on the workings of nature here in Park.

Photos: Above, two photos of Wild Boar in New York (photos courtesy DEC); Below, the reconstructed range of wild boar (in green) and introduced populations (in blue). Not shown are smaller introduced populations in South America, Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. (Map Ccourtesy Wikipedia).

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Tom Kalinowski is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for Adirondack Life, The Conservationist, and Adirondack Explorer magazines and a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News. In addition, Tom’s books, An Adirondack Almanac, and his most recent work entitled Adirondack Nature Notes, focuses on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. He also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s pictures have appeared in various publications across the New York State.




6 Responses

  1. Gerry Rising says:
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