State-approved aerial hunters killed 257 wild hogs in Kansas during a two-day hunt recently, but experts say that's just at start. An estimated 2,000 feral hogs are in Kansas, with Missouri estimated near 10,000. Nationwide, the feral swine population pushes 4 million head.

The damage the critters cause is estimated at $1 billion. That does not include the potential disease risk that they present to domestic livestock beyond swine, such cattle, sheep and other species. Feral hogs can consume large amounts of field crops, as well as create other geographic damage such as impacting wetlands. The catch is they have no natural predator today, which means they are able to reproduce easily.

The feral hog debacle got out of hand as groups or companies set up herds for hunting. From there, the animals escaped and took advantage of their natural abilities. Hunters would like to go after the hogs, but many states have banned hunting in an attempt to eliminate the incentive for people to release the hogs into the wild. Some argue that hunting hogs only spreads them further across the landscape.

Most rural landowners willingly allow state and federal wildlife agents on to their property to kill the wild pigs, but a few decline. Those refusals reinforce suspicions that most feral hogs are released by people trying to nurture sport hunting.

"We know they didn't walk from southern Kansas to the Oklahoma border. They don't move that far," says Kansas Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden. "Somebody picked them up and moved them."

In 2004, the Missouri Department of Conservation caught hunting guides illegally releasing feral hogs.The outfitters charged $50 to $100 per hunter and an additional $100 to $250 for each hog they shot.

Those pigs were set loose on land owned, in one case, by the U.S. Forest Service and, in another case, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Several outfitters were fined $2,500.

"The outfitting fees are just extra pocket money for these guys," Bill Kohne, a conservation agent, told the Associated Press. "Those fines can wipe that out pretty quickly.”

Source: The Hutchinson News/ Associate Press