One of the region's preeminent bear biologists, Chuck Jonkel, of the Missoula-based Great Bear Foundation, finds himself sounding the alarm about an environmental scourge potentially headed to Montana: wild pigs.
"If we're going to do anything about it, the time to do it is now," Jonkel says.
According to pig expert Jack Mayer, of the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C., only six states remain hog-free—Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. But Mayer warns that an introduction into Montana could be inevitable.
"There are wild pig populations currently persisting in four Canadian provinces, with animals numbering in the thousands," Mayer says. "I would assume that Montana would be just as acceptable as a home to this adaptable generalist."
Wild pigs, native to Eurasia, can throw off ecological balance in the same way that nonnative fish can wreck a fishery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture adds that the "rooting and wallowing activities of wild pigs cause serious erosion to river banks and areas along streams. These destructive animals have been known to tear through livestock and game fences and consume animal feed, minerals and protein supplements." Jonkel says conflicts between people and bears pale in comparison to the problems pigs present.
Mayer, meanwhile, urges Montana wildlife officials to be proactive.
"Montana needs to stay on top of this situation," he says. "Most of the recent expansion of wild pigs in the U.S. has been manmade. The most likely future origin of wild pigs in Montana would be from a clandestine illegal release"—some point to trophy hunters as the culprits—"rather than animals spreading or expanding their distribution from surrounding states/provinces."
Mayer recommends that Montana make it illegal to release pigs, monitor for evidence of pigs in the field, and implement a rapid response eradication plan should pigs appear.
"Somebody's going to bring 'em here," Jonkel says. "Hell, there could be someone coming right now in a pickup with nine pigs in it."