For Dan Hopper, the dead feral hog he found tied to a tree sent a message loud and clear.
The hog was hung next to a U.S. Forest Service sign declaring a ban on feral hog hunting in the Mark Twain National Forest.
"I was just going down the road and saw this hog hanging on a tree under the sign," Hopper said Wednesday. "It kind of expresses the sentiment of folks out here, and me too."
Many are opposed to the Forest Service's recent rule change that bans feral hog hunting in Mark Twain National Forest, except during deer and turkey seasons, where hogs can be shot if they happen to be seen by hunters.
Hopper, who lives on private land bordered on three sides by the Mark Twain National Forest, said it was misty and raining when he took the photo of the hanging hog. He says he did not kill it.
"I couldn't tell if it had been shot, but I'd say somebody did shoot it," Hopper said. "It didn't have broken bones like if it had been hit by a car."
If the hog was killed on Mark Twain property, whoever did it could face a fine of up to $5,000. The News-Leader asked U.S. Forest Service for a comment about the hog photo, but had received no response by Thursday morning.
Hopper said feral hogs have destroyed portions of his pasture by tearing up the ground while rooting for food. He contacted the conservation department about the problem, and eventually a trapper with the U.S. Department of Agriculture arrived and set up a trap on his property.
Hopper said the trapper quickly caught more than a dozen hogs, but then didn't return for a while. Hopper said he and a friend went ahead and baited the trap and caught several dozen more. They also managed to shoot some feral hogs in his pasture.
"Out of 54 that were caught, all but four were caught in the USDA trap," Hopper said.
He said the USDA eventually came and retrieved its trap. Hopper declined to eat any of the hogs.
"My opinion, they're nasty and gamy," he said. "But I know a lot of people like them."
He also said he had not incurred any pasture damage from feral hogs since the trapping effort concluded.
Hopper said he understands the USDA and conservation department's concept of trying to trap entire herds, or sounders, of feral hogs at one time to reduce their numbers. But he doesn't think the state or federal agencies have enough manpower to trap and kill enough hogs to eradicate them.
According to MDC, a feral hog sow can produce two litters of about six piglets twice per year, resulting in a population growth rate of about 166% per year.
Hopper said he talked with the USDA trapper about the hog problem.
"I asked do you really believe you can stay ahead of these hogs they way they breed so fast?" Hopper recalled asking. "He just hung his head and didn't answer. With as few people they have trapping, he just doesn't have a chance to keep up with those things."
State Rep. Chris Dinkins, a Republican who represents the 144th House District where Hopper lives, reacted to the hog photo Thursday.
"My take on the photo is that whoever did it is trying to send a message," Dinkins said, "I would guess it was probably a staged photo more than someone going into the Mark Twain forest and shooting a hog and potentially getting a $5,000 fine.
"We feel like our voices have not been heard," she added. "The photo is a statement that you are not listening to us."
Dinkins said she has heard from a lot of her constituents who've suffered property damage from feral hogs. She said she sees more dead hogs on the roadway, where, because of their dark color they are difficult for motorists to see at night.
She sponsored a bill that she hoped would clarify how a landowner can allow someone else to hunt feral hogs in his property, including with the use of night vision and thermal imaging gear.
Dinkins also introduced a resolution encouraging the U.S. Forest Service to reopen Mark Twain forest to feral hog hunting.
She also is proposing a bill that would put the state's 1/8 cent sales tax that funds the Department of Conservation up for a statewide vote. She proposes splitting MDC's tax three ways — 1/3 to MDC, 1/3 for veterans issues and 1/3 for resolving the backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
Dinkins also is proposing a change in the Missouri Conservation Commission. Its four members currently are appointed by the governor.
DInkins wants to change that by having voters elect a commissioner from each regional district and have one at-large member appointed by the governor.
"I think this would ensure people would have a voice in the process," Dinkins said.
FOREST SERVICE RESPONDS
In an email to the News-Leader, the U.S. Forest Service issued this statement about the hog and sign photo:
"Our goal is total elimination of feral hogs from Mark Twain National Forest. We can only guess as to what the message was that the person who hung this dead feral hog from a tree wanted to convey. There are many people with many opinions, we cannot say what this misguided individual was thinking. We hope it wasn’t a threatening gesture, as it could be seen to be. This incident is under investigation. This photo does demonstrate some of the challenges that personnel can face while trying to effectively do their jobs — and the lengths to which a few misguided individuals will go to interrupt operations.
It’s important for your readers to know that most people we encounter support the work that the Missouri Feral Hog Elimination Partnership to eliminate feral hogs from Missouri. APHIS Wildlife Services and MDC trappers have more and more landowners everyday wanting to work with them in the joint trapping effort with public land managers.
Did someone kill a hog and leave it as a symbol to show us that they did it for free (even if it was done in violation of policy)? Maybe. Did shooting that hog scatter a sounder and chase many more hogs away from an area that was either being trapped or that scouts were looking to start trapping operations — probably. So did this individual that broke the rules save the taxpayers money or actually just cost the taxpayers a whole lot of money over the long run by making reaching the true target – elimination – that much harder?"