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Hunters killed 7 wild boar during the 2004 season. Archery hunters took 4 and firearms hunters killed 3. The entire harvest came from the same general area in Logan County .
Following an initial evaluation of the stocking by West Virginia University graduate student Bill Igo in 1972, a limited 200 permit season was initiated in 1979 which killed 3 boar (Table 1). The number of permits was increased from 1979 to 1988 from 200 to 5000 and the kill ranged from 3 to 76 boar killed during early November seasons. In 1989, a split season was initiated by adding a late December season to the early November season and increasing the permits to 6,000. The kill ranged from 59 to 158 during the period from 1989 to 1995. From 1995 to 2000 the harvest declined from 158 to 46. In 2001 and 2002 the number of permits was reduced to 4000 with the kill being 43 and 38 respectively. In 2003 and 2004, the Division of Natural Resources reduced the season to a late October season and eliminated the permit requirement. The result was a harvest of 5 and 7 boar, respectively.
Biologists do not believe that boar hunting contributed to the population decline. Past seasons have been short and hunter participation restricted by permits. However, season restrictions are the only methods available that might increase populations. A single firearms season scheduled in late October is designed to reduce the harvest and provide an increased number of boar the additional time needed to occupy more productive habitats. Traditionally hunters have been less successful during the October gun season. Weather conditions are usually warm and dry and leaf fall makes boar and boar sign more difficult to find.
Wildlife Resources biologists conducted an extensive survey in February 2004 to confirm the presence or absence of wild boar in areas of Boone, Logan, Raleigh and Wyoming counties known to have supported boar in the past. Twelve routes were developed and distributed over the entire known wild boar range. Each route averaged 14.25 miles and the total miles traversed was 171. All the routes were located in remote areas that required the use of four-wheel drive vehicles, all terrain vehicles, or walking. Over half of the survey miles were conducted by walking. The survey indicated a much reduced boar population of probably fewer than 50 animals.
The main reason for the decline of wild boar in the four southern counties of Boone, Logan , Raleigh and Wyoming is habitat destruction resulting in poor reproduction and survival. Specifically mountain top mining and logging have eliminated much of the once mature oak forest that was favored by the boar. Predation by coyotes and black bear, poaching and a possible lack of genetic diversity could also be negatively influencing the boar population.
The wild boar densities are closely associated with reproductive performance and food availability. Sows usually go into estrous only after periods of high food availability. Therefore, good boar habitat has been described as lands containing a mixture of 50% agricultural crops and/or a high abundance of mast producing trees - primarily mature oak forest .
Impacts of coal mining in the boar area account for significant losses of habitat in Casey Creek , Sycamore Creek, Jigley Fork and Skin Poplar Fork. During the last 6 years, 1999 – 2004, there are 14,424 acres under coal mining permits in Boone County and 4,946 acres in Logan County (WVDEP). Clearly much of the ideal oak forest habitat favored by the wild boar has disappeared.
In the 1980's and early 1990's much of the boar area was mature oak forest. Since then accelerated commercial logging removed vast tracts of mast producing trees in main Spruce-Laurel Creek, Sycamore Creek, Dennison Fork, Jigley Fork and Skin Poplar Fork. In the past more than 75% of the boar harvest came from these areas.
Wild boar populations have also been negatively affected by poaching and predation. Poaching has always been a problem in the area, but the high reproductive potential of the wild boar, 3 – 5 piglets per sow per year in good habitat, had allowed the boar to continue expanding their populations. During the boar survey this winter Wildlife Resources personnel observed an abundance of coyote tracks. As this predator has expanded its range, it has undoubtedly influenced the boar population despite the boar's reputation of defending their broods. Black bears are also more abundant in the area and are probably significant predators on piglets and shoats.
The source of the wild boars from a dealer in the Tellico plains of Tennessee was determined to be a nearly pure European wild boar strain. These individuals undoubtedly came from a few animals in Germany and were said to have originated in the Ural Mountains of Russia. This pure strain of wild boar seems to be less prolific and more habitat specific than the typical wild hogs of the south. They are certainly poor pioneering species. Their poor adaptability may in part be a result of a genetic bottleneck and the lack of genetic diversity in the population. Since there were and remain concerns of agriculture damage and habitat destruction, these are not necessarily bad traits in a hog population. They have not spread from the original stocking site as some biologists in other states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted in the 1970's.
The demise of the wild boar population in West Virginia is certainly highly correlated with the destruction of the mature oak forest habitat favored by the species. The wild boar may have acted as a buffer species and prevented more poaching of other big game species. Also, there may have been positive sociological effects of having the wild boar in Southern West Virginia which have enhanced the establishment of traditional big game species by fostering a better conservation ethic.
Wildlife personnel will continue to monitor the wild boar population. It is anticipated that the current conservative season will continue at least until the boar populations improve.
Written by Thomas L. Dotson
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