Russian Wild Boars at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Today’s post comes from Patrick Connelly, supervisory archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

The National Park Service (NPS) is well known for its robust efforts in the area of environmental and wildlife management. In 1959, the two clashed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, forcing park officials to delicately weigh their solution.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park during its 75th anniversary, 9/2/2009. (National Archives Identifier 55058832)

The Great Smoky Mountains are home to many mountain summits or crests populated by native grasses, shrubs, and small bushes. Otherwise known as balds, trees don’t usually grow in these areas due to short growing seasons. In the summer of 1959, park officials noticed a good deal of root damage occurring on the park’s scenic balds. This sort of damage could quickly lead to erosion and the destruction of the thick azalea patches that dominate the landscape. It didn’t take officials long to determine that they had a hog problem.

This area of Tennessee was known for its feral hog population, which typically kept to the thick underbrush of the surrounding forests. Park officials soon found out, however, that there was an increasingly large population of the Russian (also known as European) wild boar, a species first introduced to the area in 1912 after several dozen hogs escaped from a North Carolina hunting reserve. 

The Russian wild boar could grow to over 600 pounds and measure up to six feet long. Unlike its feral cousins, the Russian wild boar’s main food source were grubs, and there was no better source for these critters than the balds found throughout Great Smoky. Rangers believed the influx of grubs in these areas was due to the extensive cattle grazing in the area before the establishment of the park. This non-native invasive boar could cause widespread damage to the park’s ecosystem.

Rangers, working with Tennessee game management personnel, undertook a two-step approach to their predicament—immediate boar removal and grub elimination. Hired hunters performed weekly patrols of park lands, checking hog traps and shooting free-roaming boars. The elimination of grubs in the grassy balds also made the areas less attractive to the remaining boar population.

Photograph of captured Russian wild boar, 9/10/1959. (National Archives Identifier 26420989)

The wild boar problem at Great Smoky Mountain National Park didn’t end in 1959. In fact, NPS wildlife managers continue to trap and shoot wild hogs to stop habitat destruction and the spread of disease to this day. According to the NPS website for Great Smoky, wildlife managers remove about 275 hogs from the park every year in an attempt to mitigate their damage to the ecosystem. The NPS works cooperatively with various federal, state, and local agencies to control the wild boar population.

You can learn more about the National Park Service’s wildlife management efforts at Great Smoky Mountain National Park on their website. You can also listen to an NPR interview with one of the wildlife managers employed by the National Park Service on their website.

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