Refuge manager says “No” to feral pig hunting at the Topock Marsh

A sow leads a group of young pigs at the Topock Marsh. Feral pigs breed year-round.

USF&WS/Courtesy

A sow leads a group of young pigs at the Topock Marsh. Feral pigs breed year-round.

There have been feral pigs in the Topock Marsh, which is located just off the Colorado River on the Arizona/California border for many years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their Environmental Assessment (EA) in November 2016 wrote that pigs have been in the marsh since the 1900s.

It is believed that they either escaped or were released from farms that were in the area.

When I came to Kingman in 1972, some of the “old timers” here talked about how they used to hunt the feral hogs down there.

It was even rumored that at one time a group of tristate law enforcement officers who used to conduct annual meetings in Needles, California had sold gallon jars of barbecue pork at the meeting to offset the costs of those meetings. That practiced ended after a visit by USF&WS officials in the 1970s.

I also learned that in 1975 the refuge even had a drawing to allow 25 hunters at a time to come and hunt the pigs, but the hunt went away after there were some “irregularities” in the draw and success was low. The USF&WS service in their environmental assessment noted that 175 hunters got only 42 pigs.

The pig problem got so bad at Topock Marsh that an agency within the federal government, Animal Damage Control, had been called in by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages this massive refuge, and there had been a number of pigs shot. My issue was, after they were shot, only blood samples, photos and GPS locations were noted and the carcasses were left to rot.

Since I have been actively involved in the conservation movement in the state including Mohave County, I accompanied personnel from the Arizona Game & Fish Department (Region 3) to several meetings with the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge manager advocating for hunters to be allowed to hunt the feral pigs in the marsh.

It was at these meetings with then refuge manager Linda Miller that AZGFD and I were told in no uncertain terms that there would be no pig hunts on the refuge.

Miller gave a number of what I thought were bogus reasons why hunters shouldn’t be allowed to hunt these pigs.

Now we have a new refuge manager, Richard Meyers, that I met at the recent open house at Lake Havasu City, and a couple of his staff including biologist Brenda Zaun, who has done a lot of work on feral pigs in Topock.

I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask Meyers, in light of the aerial gunning of feral pigs in Topock in February, why not let hunters assist in the elimination of these feral pigs?

Meyers was more than glad to answer that question and others I asked. I think you will find what he said interesting.

First of all, the short answer to letting hunters assist with the elimination of the pigs in Topock is still “No.”

But the reasons he gave seem to make sense.

Meyers explained that the feral pigs can, and do, carry a lot of diseases that can affect humans and animals. Pigs in the marsh have been confirmed as carriers of at least three diseases.

However, feral pigs from all over the U.S. have been eaten by sportsmen for years, and those pigs that have been taken in the marsh since 1970 have been consumed by hunters with no apparent problems.

The next, and maybe the most compelling, reason that the service is not going to let hunters in there is that they believe that within the next five years, they will eliminate the entire pig population on the Havasu NWR.

Meyers explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has pledged a lot of money with a goal of complete and total eradication of feral pigs in the marsh.

This year about $35,000 was spent to take approximately 100 pigs from the marsh.

Not only did the USDA pay for the aerial gunning of those pigs, but they also have a trapper who has caught about 25 pigs within the marsh.

Pigs that were caught in live traps, according to the EA, were euthanized on site and the carcasses buried. They could not be given to people to eat due to federal regulations.

I may be wrong, but expecting to fully eliminate the entire population of pigs in Topock is a pretty lofty goal. The thick cover provides sanctuary for the pigs, and getting them all, even with aerial gunning, might be tough. Plus they breed year-round and can raise big litters.

It’s something we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

Meyers also said something else that caught my attention.

He said because of the expected eradication of the pigs, if they started a hunting program now (which would be very hard to do because of federal regulations) and hunters liked the hunt, after they had been eradicated, he thought that hunters might import them back.

To me that sounds far-fetched, but I do know how the pigs got into the Arizona Strip. They were brought in on a “Nighttime Express’ from California and were released near what was the then the Arvada Game Ranch in Mesquite, Nevada.

So I guess it could happen.

There were other issues that Meyers and Zaun brought up, but the bottom line is that there won’t be any legal feral pig hunts in the Topock Marsh in the near future.