Arkansas woodworker and a Living Treasure according to the Arkansas Arts Council, Doug Stowe and his spouse Jean Elderwind, a retired county librarian, live peacefully on a forested ridge above Leatherwood Creek north of Eureka Springs.
Late last winter, the peace was broken.
“That’s when we noticed our rock walls that my wife and I have been tending for thirty years were being pushed aside and toppled, the dirt thrown aside,” and the long-established perennials upended, Stowe says.
The couple thought it was a one-time occurrence and paid to have the damage repaired. But then it happened again.
At first they thought they had an armadillo problem — armadillos root through dirt in search of grubs. No armadillo is strong enough to heave rock, though.
Then one night the couple spotted the suspects: several large, dark feral swine, lurking in the woods below their back deck.
After learning his neighbors were also dealing with destructive wild pigs, Doug Stowe contacted the Carroll County Quorum Court this spring for assistance.
He’s still waiting for a response.
Meanwhile, he’s asked a local hunter, Ken Anderson, for help. Anderson lives in the area and understands the menace.
“The state of Arkansas says feral swine are a nuisance and vermin,” he says.
He’s right. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission declares feral swine, now documented in every county, to be a public threat, and not just to flora and fauna.
Nationwide, five million of these pigs — descendants of Eurasian wild boar released by hunters for sport or else absconded chattel — are pullulating in 38 states, and Arkansas is among the worst.
The problem is hogs are voracious omnivores. They root through forests and destroy native plants. They can wallow up a 20-acre farm field overnight. They even prey on young livestock.
The boars weigh more than 200 pounds, roam in solitude and inseminate sows, which can produce more than a dozen piglets per season. These sows and their piglets form “sounders” — packs — for protection, exploring and learning the terrain. Pigs are adept at avoiding hazards such as traps.
Arkansas wildlife agencies are collaborating to contain the situation, but Carroll County locals believe as many as two thousand wild hogs each with a lifespan of about eight years lurk in the deep, craggy, spring-fed hollows of the Lake Leatherwood Watershed.
Hunting only disperses swine. Relocating captured swine is illegal in Arkansas, so Ken Anderson built a large round corral trap on Doug Stowe’s place. Made out of metal fencing and heavy stakes, the trap has an automatic hatch and night vision cameras. The hogs are allowed to wander in and out of the pen to feast on piles of field corn bait. Anderson periodically triggers the hatch, closing the cages on all sides, then with a rifle quickly dispatches them.
A mile west of Doug Stowe’s homestead, feral swine have also infested remote sections of Lake Leatherwood Park, a historic 1600-acre preserve operated by the city of Eureka Springs.
Parks & Recreation Director Justin Huss is charged with removing them.
“Locals refer to it as ‘Jurassic Park,’” Huss says, referring to where the swine are hiding out. “The habitat is so raw and untouched. It’s like we’re harboring fugitives. But you can see where they root. It looks like a giant Rototiller came through the park.”
Justin Huss says he plans to hold a public meeting this autumn to formulate and get permission from city council for a coordinated swine eradication plan. Landholders around the park are also beginning to appreciate the hazard afoot.
Some speculate the swine are migrating south through the White River Valley from Missouri. One riparian landowner, west of Leatherwood Park, who declined to be identified, says he’s killed well over 200 swine the past two years.
Sections of the southern Missouri Ozarks are declared feral swine hot spots, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and state game officials are working to eradicate the hogs. The DNR periodically deploys squadrons of hired guns to annihilate herds on public land, shooting the animals from helicopters. Group hunts, rather than single hunting expeditions, are more successful in reducing feral swine populations.
Such extreme measures are unlikely to take place in the Lake Leatherwood watershed, but small gangs of native Ozark hunters and individual trappers as well as residents on Pension Mountain in eastern Carroll County are out trying to contain the incursion.
And hunting feral swine is a gastronomical tradition. Generations of Arkansans have harvested wild pork. At its best it’s said to have a nutty, sweet flavor.
And with the influx of wild pigs on Lake Leatherwood, Doug Stowe says he and his neighbors have talked idly about hunting and trapping hogs for butcher and sale at local markets. But Bob Wilson, who’s operated Bubba’s BBQ in Eureka Springs for 38 years, says there’s a few disincentives for that kind of harm-to-table turnabout.
“I’d say don’t eat it,” he says. “It’s not worth taking a chance.”
Wilson’s aware that wild swine carry virus, bacteria, and parasites, infectious to humans, pets and livestock, and that any pork sold to the public must adhere to strict guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Needless to say, there will be no wild boar on Bubba’s menu.
Even the local wildlife sanctuary, Turpentine Creek, which houses dozens of lions, panthers, cougars and bears, refuses to take feral swine carcasses for its carnivores.
Clinton Turnage, a USDA Wildlife Disease Biologist based in Arkansas, conducts feral swine surveillance across the state. The disease vectors vary widely in hog populations, he says, but the ones that have been proven are scary.
“We are seeing swine Brucellosis, Influenza A virus, Pseudo-rabies, Hepatitis, and some Leptospirosis.”
Feral swine also carry Trichinellosis and a Herpes virus.
“The greatest risk for exposure is field dressing the animal,” he said, meaning gutting the animals and harvesting choice cuts after the kill. Gloves are necessary.
Many hunters, including Ken Anderson, haul off the carcasses for burial or for wildlife to scavenge.
Rebecca McPeake, with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and Arkansas Forest Resource Center, says local wild carnivores relish the meat.
“There’s lots of animals that will take advantage of that carcass,” she says, “including vultures and coyotes."
Of course, vultures and coyotes are two other overabundant species.