A bounty program touted as a remedy to Alberta's wild boar problem has resulted in zero kills in the five months since the province declared open season on the invasive swine.
Since April 1, the province has offered Albertans rewards for proof of boar kills through two pilot programs — part of a larger effort to eliminate feral pigs, including increased surveillance and new compensation for farmers.
A price is on the heads of feral pigs; more specifically, their ears.
A two-year "whole sounder trapping incentive" encourages the elimination of herds of wild boar. Trappers are paid $75 per pair of ears, with the expectation that they have killed an entire sounder.
A separate one-year program offers hunters $75 for every pair of ears they turn in.
As of this week, however, not a single bounty hunter has collected a reward — raising concerns about the effectiveness of the hunt.
In a statement to CBC on Tuesday, the province said no bounties have been collected to date.
'Looking for a new critter'
Terry Fisher, a lifelong hunter from De Winton, a hamlet in the foothills of southern Alberta, wants to help the province handle its problem. But trying to stalk down a feral pig feels like a "dead end," he said.
While hunters can be secretive about their hunting grounds, there is a dearth of information from the government on where to look for wild boar, he said.
Online message boards dedicated to hunting are filled with posts from Albertans searching for clues about how — and where — to harvest the animals. The province doesn't give out locations "due to privacy issues," it says.
"I can't find out where they are," Fisher said. "You're always looking for a new critter. And for this, there's no information."
If the province wants help eliminating them, more must be done to educate would-be hunters, he said.
"They're talking about how it could be close to, you know, epidemic proportions. OK, so where is this?"
Alberta has been grappling with how to eliminate the large tusked animals. Wild boar are one of the most destructive and rapidly-spreading invasive species on the continent.
The province's feral pig population includes Eurasian wild boar but also hybrids of the Eurasian breed and domestic pigs — escaped farm animals and their descendants.
The pigs are incredibly destructive.
They trample natural habitats, devour crops and harass livestock. They contaminate water sources by wallowing in wetlands, and carry diseases that can spread to domesticated pigs.
Alberta's hunting bounty will run until March 31, 2023. The trapper side of the program will run until the spring of 2024.
To date, the Municipal District of Bonnyville, the Municipal District of Peace and the County of Stettler have signed on to both pilots.
Ryan Brook, an associate professor in the agriculture department of the University of Saskatchewan and director of the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project, said he is pleased no bounties have been claimed.
Hunting is an ineffective management tool for feral pigs and will likely make the problem worse, he said.
"The government of Alberta implemented a lot of good actions," Brook said. "In a lot of ways they've been leading the country in terms of addressing wild pigs. This bounty was not one of them."
Outwitting the hunt?
Hunting will disperse the pigs on the landscape and make them more nocturnal and elusive, Brook said.
The animals will learn to avoid threats and outwit hunters, he said.
"Unfortunately, sport hunting has played a major role in actually increasing the populations and spreading them around," he said.
"Now they occupy over one million square kilometres of Canada … and they are expanding across the Prairies, completely out of control."
I discourage any do-it-yourself work, in general, on pigs. -Ryan Brook
Trapping is most effective in exterminating feral pigs but it should be a co-ordinated effort that captures and kills an entire sounder, he said.
"Self-made traps and and going out and shooting at groups of pigs, in both cases, is almost a guaranteed path to make the problem worse.
"I discourage any do-it-yourself work, in general, on pigs."
The province should abandon the bounty hunt, as it has done before, Brook said.
Alberta's previous boar bounty program, introduced in 2008, paid $50 once proof of the kill was supplied.
More than 1,000 wild boars were killed under that program, which was shut down in 2017. A government report from the time notes that interest was waning, and hunting could be making the pigs more wary and difficult to track.
At Hog Wild Specialties on land near Mayerthorpe, 135 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, hunters have been stalking wild boar— on fenced hunting lands — for years.
Earl Hagman, who owns the business, raises the animals for meat and also hosts guided hunts.
He takes no issue with the government bounty but wonders if hunters will have much luck stalking pigs in the wild.
Hagman said he often gets calls from hunters seeking information about where to find the beasts in the bush but said he hasn't seen any in years.
He started raising and marketing European wild boar in 1991. At the time, farmers were being encouraged by the province to diversify their operations.
The pigs were promoted as a hardy and tasty livestock option but there were no requirements for secure containment. And few believed the pigs could thrive in Alberta's cold winters.
Hagman hosts more than 100 captive hunts each year and said clients quickly become hooked on the challenge and the harvest.
"They love the meat. They come back again and again for the meat."