CUMBERLAND ISLAND, Ga. - Another animal has been added to the list of threatened and endangered species on Georgia's largest barrier island.
National Park Service officials predict this animal could be extinct on Cumberland Island within three years. In this instance, the species'sdemise is welcome.
The park service has begun its long-awaited feral hog eradication program by using a combination of hunting and trapping to eliminate the estimated 1,000 animals on Cumberland Island.
"The goal is to eliminate every hog on the island," said John Fry, the resource management specialist for the park service. "This is the No. 1 natural resource project on the island and will be the next two or three years."
Feral hogs, animals once domesticated but freed or escaped, are being targeted for elimination because they damage the island's sensitive landscape and harm endangered sea turtles and other animals.
Hogs have run wild on the 18-mile-long island since British settlers brought the animals there more than 200 years ago, Mr. Fry said.
Feral hogs compete with native animals for food. The biggest impact can be seen where the animals search for grubs and roots. Two or three hogs can destroy 1,000 square feet of land searching for grubs and roots in about 15 minutes, said Ed O'Connell, a biologist assigned to Cumberland Island to deal with the hog problem.
Scars from hogs searching for food are visible across the island. Areas where hogs recently have fed look like someone took a land-tilling machine and randomly overturned as much land as possible. Some areas, such as low-lying sand dunes, take as long as two years to recover, Mr. O'Connell said. Hogs also are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the endangered sea turtle nests destroyed on Cumberland Island in recent years.
"This is a significant problem," Mr. O'Connell said. "There are very few areas of the island they don't impact."
Hal Wright, a St. Marys attorney and member of the environmental group Defenders of Wild Cumberland, said the start of the hog program was welcome news.
"The park service has long recognized the need to remove hogs from the island," Mr. Wright said. "The park service is to be commended for implementing the plan."
Mr. Fry said rangers already have met with island residents, and they explain the hog elimination program to campers before they go to the island. So far, the park service has received no complaints about the program.
Mr. O'Connell said rangers plan to be as "unobtrusive as possible" while trapping or hunting hogs. Campers and island residents won't see hogs being shot, and traps are in areas where people are unlikely to see them, he said.
"Our No. 1 goal is safety," he said. "We're not in areas where we're going to encounter people. We don't want to impact a visitor's experience."
Rangers have been pre-baiting traps - large wooden pens with a trap door - with corn so the animals associate the traps with food, Mr. O'Connell said. In upcoming weeks, the traps will be activated.
The strength of the traps is that it's not unusual to capture a sow and her entire family in a trap, Mr. Fry said. Plus, traps work 24 hours a day, he said.