An unprecedented number of feral pigs are causing a ruckus in a valley near Washington's Olympic National Park. According to park officials, the pigs have invaded from the nearby Quinault Indian Reservation, where the tribe has hunted the animals for nearly 15 years. Since April, the wild hogs have breached the perimeter of the park and made themselves at home. In one case, a pig herd, seen from a plane, was feasting on an elk carcass.
Park biologists are worried that these hogs, prolific breeders and voracious "rototiller" omnivores, will wreak havoc in the park's wildlands, where denuded patches of vegetation make a perfect foothold for invading exotic vegetation.
"Ecologically, they could have a disaster on their hands," says Bruce Coblentz, a wildlife professor at Oregon State University, who has studied feral livestock for 25 years.
In an attempt to eradicate the problem pigs, the Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife has issued an unregulated, year-round open season on feral hogs in the forests surrounding the park, but some speculate that may not solve the problem. Hunters like shooting the pigs and many want to ensure this pastime will be around in the future.
"I think everyone's trying to shoot the smaller (pigs) and leave the bigger ones for breeding, " says Dick Gates, the owner of a local sporting goods store and founder of Hunters Heritage Council, a statewide hunters' lobbying group.