Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 16, 2012

Forum: Worse things than tigers on the loose?

Many Michigan residents are familiar with invasive plant species and their negative effects. Most people are also aware of invasive aquatic species, such as zebra and quagga mussels. But few know of the burgeoning problem of invasive terrestrial animals, including reptiles and mammals.

From rabbits to deer and bobcats, through birds, reptiles and amphibians, invasive Burmese pythons are eating their way through wildlife in the Florida Everglades. From 2000, when released or escaped, pet pythons took hold in the state, populations of many previously common species have declined precipitously. Several, like cottontail rabbits, have vanished from some areas.

Nutria, a two foot long rodent, is causing massive wetland destruction in Louisiana and other states. Also called the river rat, the nutria, originally from South America, was brought into our country in the late 19th Century by fur ranchers. By 1940, the fur market collapsed, leaving ranchers with no income to care for their animals. Many simply released the giant rodents into the wild, where they have done widespread damage to many thousands of acres of wetlands.

Today, ranchers, farmers, state and federal agencies and others are spending billions of dollars attempting to manage invasive species that are destroying entire ecosystems. Closer to home than pythons and nutria, think emerald ash borer, Asian carp and non-native Phragmites asutralis. And now comes the issue of Russian boars (also called "razorbacks" or Eurasian boars), which are undiscriminating omnivorous scavengers and predators capable of surviving northern Michigan's cold climate.

Their fondness for tubers and roots results in destruction of both wetlands and woods, and their taste for grasses and other crops has resulted in extensive agricultural damage where their numbers have exploded.

Introduced in the early 1900s for hunting, this large animal has a deserved reputation as cunning and fiercely dangerous. Boars that escaped hunting ranches and established local populations in the south and west, have wrought havoc on both wild ecosystems and domestic crops. Some states, including Oklahoma, Texas and North and South Carolina, have declared all-out war on these cagey, destructive creatures.

Mississippi State University made an informative video that addresses wild pig damage and the threat they pose to natural resources, agriculture, and public health. You can find it on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/MSSTATEwfaTV.

In parts of Asia, where tigers and European boars coexist, boars are a prime food for the world's largest member of the feline family. However, the big cats avoid taking fully-grown male boars, which — according to numerous sources — can kill tigers.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has declared the Russian boar an invasive species and has placed a ban on them. Opposition to the ban has arisen, but those who oppose it might want to ask themselves: Do we really want yet another invasive species loosed on our environment? Or perhaps we should also ask ourselves if we really want a beast roaming our forests that even a tiger wouldn't mess with.

About the author: Kay Charter and her husband Jim own Charter Sanctuary, a private effort on behalf of migrating and nesting birds. She is also Executive Director of Saving Birds Thru Habitat (savingbirds.org), dedicated to restoring, preserving and protecting habitat for migrating bird populations.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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