Image: Wild Pig
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via AP
Wild pigs like this one are not native to the U.S. but it's estimated 4 million roam at least 25 states.
updated 10/28/2008 11:30:52 AM ET 2008-10-28T15:30:52

Southwestern Wisconsin in October is close to paradise: crimson-tinged bluffs, rolling ridge-top fields, peace and quiet. But haunting the hollows is something, big, mean and ugly.

For years, dozens of giant, hairy hogs have run wild through its valleys and bottoms, rooting up trees, devouring crops before they sprout and keeping residents indoors. Now state investigators say they know who brought the beasts here, and they want him to pay.

According to them, the culprit is former elk farm owner Robert S. Johnson. They believe he hauled 31 wild hogs from Texas to Wisconsin in 2002 and let them loose near the Kickapoo River in Crawford County.

Johnson was charged in February with illegally stocking wild animals, a civil infraction. A trial to determine whether he's liable began Sept. 5 and is still ongoing.

4 million in 25 states
Feral hogs are descended from escaped domestic pigs Spanish explorers brought to the Americas from Europe. Biologists estimate about 4 million of them roam at least 25 states.

They're not pretty critters. They weigh 80 to 450 pounds, sport coarse hair that ranges from black to red and have tough snouts, with tusks that can grow up to 9 inches long. They'll eat anything, but they especially like to use their noses to root out food from underground. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the hogs cause about $800 million damage to the nation's farm industry annually.

Alien invaders"They are digging machines," said Vance Haugen, a University of Wisconsin farm expert serving Crawford County.

In the case against Johnson, Wisconsin's Department of Justice wants at least $31,000 in forfeitures — $1,000 for each pig — as well as money to cover environmental damages.

Leonard Olson, who farms near Seneca, said the pigs devoured 90 percent of the corn seed over 14 acres he rented last year and were a big reason he didn't rent it again this year. The pigs also got at corn on another 118 acres he farms, costing him about $20,000, he said.

"It ticks you off, but there's nothing you can do about it," Olson said. "If someone purposely introduced them to us, that's pathetic."

'They're always out there'
Wild pigs showed up in Wisconsin around 2000, said Dave Matheys, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist based in Viroqua.

They've been reported in at least a dozen counties, although no one has any idea how many are here or how much damage they've caused. State agriculture officials offer no reimbursement for crop damage caused by pigs.

But concern over their effects on the environment and the possibility they could spread diseases to livestock are growing — last year USDA officials said pseudorabies in two Clark County swine herds was likely linked to exposure to wild hogs — and the DNR has declared open season on them.

Image: Roger, Diann Benzing
Todd Richmond  /  AP
Roger and Diann Benzing say wild pigs have cost them about $20,000 in crop damage.
Crawford County is a pig hot spot. The county is nearly 50 percent forested, crops are plentiful and its steep ridges and ravines provide natural cover. It's estimated that about 275 pigs have been killed in the county, yet 30 to 50 pigs still roam the area.

Roger Benzing, a farmer who raises corn, hay and alfalfa outside Seneca, calls the pigs devils.

He said they've cost him about $20,000 in crop damage. His wife, Diann Benzing, said she's given up hunting for spring mushrooms because she's so afraid.

"You know they're always out there," she said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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