Feds Plan To Rid Cumberland Island Of Wild Hogs

Part of the 2002 Wilderness Plan for the island mandates “complete eradication” of feral hogs. Deer cooler, hunt camp also slated to go.

GON Staff | May 1, 2002

If current proposals are carried out by the National Park Service (NPS), hunters who decide to continue traveling to Cumberland Island National Seashore in the future will be in for some big changes.

Cumberland Island’s management practices are going through a review by the NPS. In particular, they are looking at how activities relate to the island’s Wilderness designation, which was set by Congress in 1982, but in some aspects has not been followed.

“We have quite a few environmental compliance issues,” said Brian Peters, chief ranger at Cumberland.

If the NPS gets its wish, the biggest change for hunters will be the absence of wild hogs — the primary quarry for some who attend the Cumberland hunts.

According to Park Service Environmental Assessment documents: “The purpose of the proposed action, the eradication of the hogs, is to protect native species and communities. Undocumented estimates indicate that there are already several thousand hogs on Cumberland Island. Recreational hunting and NPS predator removal actions to protect sea turtles are not keeping up with this high rate of reproduction. As good stewards of public lands, the NPS cannot in good conscience offer an alternative to reduce continually the size of the feral hog population. Therefore, in order to protect native species, complete eradication of the feral hog population is the only alternative considered.”

Instead of the NPS hiring professionals to shoot and trap hogs, sportsmen wonder why additional hunts aren’t being considered to help keep the hogs in check — especially since hunters pay their way by purchasing a $25 hunt permit.

“The hunt fees pay our costs to run the hunts, but it is not a very effective way of reducing the hog population,” Brian said. “We recognize the desire of hunters, but when we balance that desire to hunt hogs versus the damage the hogs do, it just doesn’t match up.”

There are six, 3-day hunts a season on Cumberland. One hunt is archery-only, one is adult/child, and two are primitive-weapons hunts. Only two hog-only hunts allow firearms, with an average of 40 to 50 hogs taken on those hunts.

“The hunting is not effective enough to justify adding more hunts to control the hog population,” Brian said. “During hunts we have to close the north end of the island to other recreational users. We can’t bring backpackers into the Wilderness area while a hunt is going on.

“As much as we would like to provide as broad an opportunity as possible, we can’t provide everything. We hope people will appreciate the rustic, wilderness aspect of hunting at Cumberland.”

In addition to the eradication of wild hogs, the following changes have been proposed in order for Cumberland to comply with Wilderness regulations:

• Removal of the Plum Orchard hunt camp. Hunters would have to hike their gear to a new camp located more than a mile from the dock. Hunters particularly don’t like this change because the primary reason is so that guests of the newly-renovated Plum Orchard Inn don’t have to look out their windows at a hunt camp.

• Park rangers would no longer make pick-ups of harvested game from along island roads. Hunters would not be able to use wheeled carts to haul game, either.

• Hunters would no longer have use of a deer cooler. Meat would have to be stored on ice in personal coolers, or it would have to be taken immediately to the mainland via boat.

• Currently there is a “restroom” trailer at Plum Orchard that has showers and toilets. It would be removed.

Brian said letters to hunters will be going out the first of May, letting them know of proposed changes.

“This coming season the hunts will be run the same as in the past with one exception, we will not be using trucks to pick up game. Plum Orchard hunt camp and the cooler will be used next season.”

For longtime hunters of Cumberland, the changes are making them feel unwelcome on the island, despite a Congressional mandate, as part of the enabling legislation that created the national seashore, that hunting will always take place there.

“The NPS should be implementing changes that will make recreational hunting more effective instead of working to discourage public hunting,” said Jack Leichliter, of Roswell. “It is clear that the NPS is using their new plan to destroy public hunting by making it nearly impossible and unattractive to hunt there.”

Ironically, despite efforts to restrict hunters due to Wilderness regulations, the NPS will violate those same Wilderness regulations during their hog-eradication plan — including the use of vehicles to transport traps and hired shooters.

“If they can deviate from the Wilderness Plan for that, why can’t they make one run per day to pick up game?” said Randy Smith, of Macon. “Especially since hunters are doing part of the job to remove the hogs.”

The final draft of the Environmental Assessment Plan for management of Cumberland Island is expected within weeks of May 1, 2002, at which time sportsmen will have 30 days to comment before a final management plan is drawn. For information on the management-plan process, call (912) 882-4335.

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