SLIDELL- According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, there are about 500,000 feral hogs in the state.
On Monday, a helicopter went on a search mission throughout the southern portion of the Pearl River Wildlife Management area, or W.M.A., to find as many feral hogs as possible and shoot them.
"They damage the marsh, they damage the upland areas, they compete with deer for acorns and other food resources, they destroy forest regeneration," said Dr. Jim LaCour, state wildlife veterinarian with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
But Steve Fleming, whose family has lived near the WMA for centuries, doesn't agree with the reasons behind the agency’s operation, nor the method, which leaves the dead animals on the property, due to the potential for disease.
"They have put nothing forward to show us that a hog is a problem here," he said. "And if it was, they were gonna damage stuff, hurricane protection, the levees and have diseases like they said, I'd be the first to get rid of them. But that's not true."
Hunters, like James Madison, have their own theory as to what's really diminishing the quality of the WMA.
"They have never been willing to work with us on that and take any of our suggestions and now that they've mismanaged it over these years, they believe it’s become a crisis," he said.
LDWF says it’s done operations like this for years across the state, but before now, they let hunters do a majority of the hog population control in the Pearl River WMA, while agents did occasional trapping and frequent disease testing. But this year, LaCour said the agency feels the number is more than what hunters can handle, and they expected backlash for their plan.
"These are invasive non-native animals,” he said, “They have been on Pearl River Management area, or Pearl River in this area for many years. They have an established population and we're trying to reduce those numbers."
It's an effort not everyone agrees with, but continues, for now.
The hunters have created an organization, Save Our WMA, in order to dispel what they call misinformation about feral hogs and to revitalize the Pearl River WMA. You can contact them by emailing SaveOurWMA@gmail.com.
Wildlife and Fisheries is offering something the locals have asked for -- more time to hunt hogs themselves. The agency is taking applications until April 4 for an experimental spring-summer hog trapping season lottery.
The Pearl River WMA is one of nine to try out the season from May through August. Applications are offered here. For those without web access, call 225-765-2346.