Helicopter hog hunt closing parts of refuge

INDIAHOMA, OK (KSWO) - Parts of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge will be closed this week as officials hunt from a helicopter to control the feral hog population.

The feral hogs are not native to this area and can rapidly populate. If officials don't work to keep their population in check, they can completely take over an area and destroy the habitat. They've been hunting the hogs on the refuge for several years, but in 2015 they first began using a helicopter. They say it has allowed them to be much more successful than they were in the past.

Wildlife Biologist Dan McDonald said the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has been very aggressively trying to control the feral hog population for several years. He said that is all in an attempt to protect the habitat.

"They cause a lot of disturbance through their rooting, looking for food and then they also compete for resources with the native wildlife here on the refuge," McDonald said. "In an effort to reduce the habitat destruction that they do and with them competing with the native wildlife we want to remove as many of these hogs as we can."

McDonald said the hogs will root into the ground, which allows other invasive plants to grow on the refuge. On top of that, they also directly impact many of the animals that call the refuge their home.

"They'll go after ground-nesting birds, they'll eat the eggs, get into turkey nests and quail nests, eat snakes and lizards. Hogs are really opportunistic feeders so they're going to go after and catch whatever they can get," McDonald said. "And then they compete for native forage resources, acorns, they compete with the deer."

McDonald said because they now use helicopters to hunt, they are able to have a much greater impact than they could when they simply trapped them on foot. He said that success is absolutely necessary to keep up with hogs skyrocketing population.

"Theoretically they can breed at six months of age and have two to three litters per year. With each litter, they can have six to 12 young. You can imagine twice a year, dropping six to 12 young that that population can explode really quickly," McDonald said.

The aerial hunts will begin Tuesday morning but McDonald said they will do their best to have a minimal impact on the public.

"We'll close down two different portions of the refuge while we fly on Tuesday. The area from Quanah Parker Lake over towards Job Corp will be closed for about 4 hours. Then on Wednesday, we'll close the Sharon's Gardens area and the Elk Mountain area for about half of the day," McDonald said.

McDonald said they will also be hunting on Thursday and Friday, but those will be in parts of the refuge that the public does not have access to.

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