CONCORD, N.H. - Retired wildlife biologist Becky Field was on high alert
as she drove down Interstate 89 on a dark night two years ago. She gripped
the steering wheel tightly, ready to swerve if a moose crossed her path.
When a state trooper told her that it was actually a wild boar that crashed into her Toyota Prius and pushed it off the highway, her first thought was "That's impossible."
At the time, the state Fish and Game department said the animal likely escaped from a wild game park and that the state didn't have an established wild boar population. But that has changed, and state officials say now everyone should be on alert.
Feral swine have been expanding their range in the United States in the past few decades and are well-established in southern states, California and Texas, where they've devastated crops and wildlife habitat with their voracious rooting and wallowing. There have been sporadic sightings in New Hampshire for more than a century, but the state only recently confirmed a significant population.
Mark Ellingwood, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist, estimates there are fewer than 500 feral hogs in the state, mostly in Grafton, Sullivan and Cheshire counties, but damage complaints and sightings are on the rise. In addition to property damage -- the swine can dig two-foot-deep gouges with their snouts -- the state is concerned that the boars will out-compete native wildlife for food given that they multiply rapidly and will consume nearly anything they come across, Ellingwood said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been helping landowners who have had property damaged by wild boars through trapping and shooting, while state officials try to raise public awareness.
"We want people to be aware of the threats they pose to our natural environment, both plant communities and wildlife," Ellingwood said.
Officials believe the state's wild boar population originates from Corbin Park, a private, fenced-in shooting preserve that covers large parts of Croydon and several surrounding towns. The 24,000 acre preserve was founded in 1890 and is known for its extremely limited membership.
Scott Gilroy of the Blue Mountain Forest Association, which runs the park, said it would be impossible to estimate how many wild boar are in the park or have escaped from it over the years. He said he's heard of half a dozen or so being killed by hunters outside the park each winter.
"Obviously several of them have gotten out because we've found places where the fences have been cut (by poachers). I think this would qualify very much as a nuisance rather than a plague," he said.
"We have worked very hard to develop good relations with Fish and Game, and I believe we have maintained that," he said.
Ellingwood agreed that park officials have been cooperative in attempting to control the boar population.
New Hampshire hunting regulations do not classify feral swine as wild game. Instead, the animals are considered escaped private property and may only be hunted with permission of the property owner. But because the boar population is linked to the game park, the park has given permission for licensed hunters to kill the animals outside the park.
"It's evident to us that the preserve is interested in containing those animals, but it is a difficult challenge given the nature of the animal and the length of the fences that are involved," he said. "To the extent that they are authorizing the take of those animals outside the fence, I think they're demonstrating good faith in their sensitivity to the problems the animals can cause."
For Field, those problems included a car that was so damaged that it required repairs off and on for nearly a year after the accident. Her driver's side door was damaged, and nearly everything under the front of her car was ripped out.
"That section that I was driving through is particularly dark ... and all of a sudden I just heard this humongous crash and the car lurched to the right, and I sort of ended up in the breakdown lane," she said. "I had absolutely no idea what I had hit or had hit me. In fact, my first thought was that maybe it was a log or something that had been in the road."
Field said a Fish and Game officer she met after the crash told her the animal that struck her car was an adult female weighing 150 to 200 pounds.
"The minute I got home I started looking up all my textbooks," said Field, who used to teach at Colby-Sawyer College. "I'm rather surprised we've got an established population in the state."
Feral swine populations in the northeast are relative sparse, but there also are confirmed populations in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
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