Mounting fears over an explosion in the number of diseased, feral pigs overrunning land in and around Puhoi boiled to the surface at a meeting at the Puhoi Centennial Hall on August 3.
The meeting was organised by the Forest Bridge Trust, which called in a professional mediator to chair it, fearing a clash between landowners, who complain pigs are wrecking their properties, and some hunting enthusiasts, who are accused of trespassing and deliberately releasing pigs into the wild to make more sport.
About 70 people attended, including hunters, landowners and representatives from Auckland Council, the QEII National Trust and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Early scepticism that there was no pig problem in Puhoi was quickly countered by a barrage of testimony from landowners. They complained significant increases in pig numbers had been witnessed in the last two years. The pigs were destroying pasture and orchards, ripping up paddocks and posing a threat to native flora and fauna, including stands of kauri trees and Hochstetter’s frog. Moreover, pigs were destroying trap lines meant to curb other pests.
One speaker said many pigs were sick, posing a threat to human health through the spread of diseases such as E. coli and salmonella.
One landowner spoke of the frustration of trying to undertake major plantings.
“It really p*sses you off when you spend all this money and the pigs come and root up the trees,” she said.
A representative of the QEII National Trust, which administers the Dunn’s Bush reserve, said the pig problem was “out of control”. Previously, about four or five pigs would be shot each year by a volunteer hunter at the reserve. But in the last two years, about 50 had been shot every winter and professional contractors had been brought in to cope with the surging population.
Various explanations were put forward for the rapid rise in pig numbers. Several speakers insisted pigs were deliberately being released, citing the large number of piglets being reared by sows and the fact they allowed themselves to be easily visible during daylight – both evidence of domestication.
Another factor suggested was the extent of land being forested (creating an environment hospitable to pigs), and the construction of the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway, which was forcing pigs to move from their former habitats to Puhoi. One speaker suggested Council had permitted extensive subdivision for profit, but failed to monitor that subdivided land was properly fenced and managed, allowing pigs to prosper.
One pig hunter said he was ready to assist landowners in eliminating pigs from their land but the fact that land had been cut into smaller blocks made hunting problematic. While a hunter might have permission to hunt on a single block, pigs quickly fled to neighbouring land, where a hunter might have no permission to hunt.
Landowners at the meeting reiterated their objection to hunters trespassing on their land, posing a risk of people being shot accidentally and increasing the risk of spreading kauri dieback.
As time for the meeting began to run out, it was decided to form a working group to formulate a strategic plan to deal with the complex issues involved. The group will include local landowners, pig hunters and representatives from DOC, Auckland Council and the QEII National Trust. The police will also be asked to supply a representative.