May 5 , 2007

Wild boar in county raise concerns


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A hunter points to what looks to be a boar hoof print in the mud in northern Cortland County.

Staff Reporter

They most likely arrived quietly — a small group of three or four wild boar burrowing out of captivity late one night years ago, disappearing into the woods of the northeastern portion of Cortland County.
Since then though — with above-average intelligence, coarse black hair perfectly suited for upstate winters and no natural predators to speak of locally — the boars have thrived, and as their presence in the hills of northern Homer, Preble and Scott has grown, they’ve become anything but quiet.
“It pretty much resembles a battlefield after they’ve been around,” Bill Burns said of the damage boars have done to his farmland in Spafford in recent years.
“And they’re definitely reproducing,” Burns said. “When we first started having problems, we thought that perhaps the winters would be cold enough to limit reproduction, but they actually seem to do quite well.”
Wild boar have become a major nuisance species throughout many regions of the United States, causing millions of dollars of damage to the agriculture industry annually, especially in the South.
They can carry diseases, root up cropland, occasionally attack and kill livestock and — able to grow to between 300 and 400 pounds with long tusks and an aggressive nature — they can be dangerous when cornered or threatened.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been aware of wild boars in this area for at least five years, said agency spokesperson Diane Carlton.
The DEC believes the animals, which are not native to the area, escaped from a nearby game farm, where exotic animals are imported and released for controlled hunts, she said.
Two such farms are in operation in Cortland County — Cold Brook Hunts at 7217 Cold Brook Road and Big Boar Lodge at 1112 Long Road, both in the town of Scott — but numerous phone calls to both businesses were not returned.
“We can’t say for sure where they’re from, they’re not tagged or anything, but we believe they escaped from a game farm,” Carlton said. “They’re supposed to be penned, but unfortunately they got loose somehow … and it does appear that they’re breeding.”
Burns and numerous other farmers and hunters contacted by the Cortland Standard were reluctant to guess at the total number of boars in the area— rough estimates ranged from 100 to 300 — but all said that they’ve either seen or heard of many different groups of animals, ranging in size from six to 30 boars, and in many different areas, from the Otisco Valley area in Preble to Brake Hill in Scott and down into northern Homer.
“They’re pretty active — they might be in one area for a while, but then they move on, so it’s tough to say how many total,” Burns said. “Numbers-wise, it’s too many to be comfortable with.”
More than just a nuisance
Just a few days before deer-hunting season began last autumn, Greg Piercey, a corrections officer with the County Sheriff’s Department, was building a tree stand on Brake Hill when a juvenile boar stumbled upon Piercey’s dog.
Before Piercey had an opportunity to react, he and his dog were surrounded by more than a dozen boars of various sizes, including approximately five animals that appeared to be full-grown, he said.
“The big mother boar attacked my dog, threw it in the air … I had to beat her with a stick in order to get her off my dog,” Piercey said, noting that the boar appeared to weigh between 325 and 350 pounds. “She nailed me in the leg with her tusks and my dog got tore apart pretty bad.”
Piercey’s dog survived despite being gored by the boar, and Piercey got away with a bandage on his leg and a rabies shot.
However, he said, the incident convinced him that the boars could potentially become a serious safety issue.
“What worries me is, if you’ve got small children playing around in the woods and they get between the piglets and the mother, there’s going to be serious problems,” he said. “These are huge animals and it could definitely be dangerous … and there’s a lot more of these things up there than people realize.”
Boars tend to shy away from people, said Wilson Pond, a retired professor of animal science from Cornell University, but they can become aggressive, especially when threatened.
“The male boar are especially aggressive, but when the female is pregnant, she can be, too,” Pond said.
Omnivores, boars have been known to attack and eat livestock, and Eugene Wright, who owns a farm on Brake Hill Road. He is relatively certain that boars were responsible for attacking one of his sheep last fall.
Wright was keeping a handful of mature sheep in a temporary pasture when one morning he woke up to find the pasture fence trampled and an adult ewe suffering from a large bite wound that would ultimately require Wright to put the animal down.
“I couldn’t say for sure because the ground was too wet to find any tracks or anything, but it didn’t look like a normal attack by coyotes,” Wright said, noting that typically coyotes seek out the weakest member of the herd, while this was a mature animal. “Coyotes usually sneak in, take a lamb, and don’t distract the rest of the flock, but when I got out there the flock was really shook up … it was definitely unusual.”
Wright said he’s also had problems at times with boars rooting up his fields, a problem becoming more and more common in the area.
“They get into the crops, root around, cause a lot of damage … they’re definitely a nuisance,” said Dennis Birdsall, who owns farmland in Scott. “We see them a fair amount, really from this time of year up until fall … it’s usually big groups of them, up to 15 to 20 at a time, all different sizes.”
Furthermore, the boars can carry diseases that can affect livestock, which prompted a recent $60,000 study into the wild boar population in Pennsylvania, according to Dr. David Griswold, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department’s Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services.
Brucellosis, which can be carried by swine and also affects cattle, and pseudorabies, which can affect the breeding of domestic swine, have both been linked to wild boars, Griswold said.
“Right now in Pennsylvania, the national status for both (diseases) is negative, but if we were to lose that status it would mean serious marketing losses for our livestock industry,” Griswold said.
New York state is also negative for both brucellosis and pseudorabies, said Jessica Chittenden, spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The DEC is not aware of any problem with boars carrying diseases, Carlton said, and the total number of wild boars in New York, while not known for sure, is not believed to be high enough to warrant any significant statewide attention.

Stemming the tide

When state wildlife officials in Pennsylvania launched the population study last November, the expectation was that the study would find one or two breeding groups totaling no more than a few hundred wild boars.
Four months later, officials have upped that estimate to at least 3,000 statewide, with breeding groups thriving all over the state.
“I’m concerned that we’re getting close to the point where the breeding population is large enough that we’re going to see a real explosion in population,” Griswold said.
Cortland County’s problem is not nearly that serious, Carlton said, but the DEC is concerned about the potential for rapid population growth.
“We’d certainly like to get them off the landscape, removed from the ecosystem, so we let people know, if you have a legal hunting license, you can shoot them year-round,” Carlton said, noting that the DEC had documented “several” boars killed by hunters in the past year.
However, some states have outlawed hunting the animals, opting instead to kill them with state-run aerial hunts, for fear that typical hunting will compel the boars to spread to other areas.
“I think hunting can expand the range of these things,” Griswold said, noting that Pennsylvania is asking hunters to avoid shooting boar in areas where the state is hoping to trap and test the boars for diseases. “They’re very smart animals, and once they get shot at in one area, they’re probably wary about returning.”
Still, Carlton said the DEC was hopeful hunters would curb the population.
“I think it’s safe to say that hunting isn’t going to make it any worse,” she said.


County continues to monitor nitrate levels

Staff Reporter

It has been almost four years since high levels of nitrates were discovered in public and private water supplies in the Preble area.
Since then, the county Office of Environmental Health has done remediation in some areas, but levels remain high in others, and monitoring and an emphasis on awareness continue.
The primary source of the contamination, while it can be guessed at, remains unclear.
Since nitrate contamination was first identified as a problem in September of 2003 — with levels exceeding the maximum level of contamination of 10 milligrams per liter — the Health Department has been doing periodic monitoring of nitrate levels in the Preble area and throughout the county, said John Helgren, public health engineer for the department.
Nitrates, which come from animal or human waste, or from commercial fertilizers, can be harmful to children and breastfeeding women, but are especially a threat to infants.
However, there have been no reports of nitrate related illnesses in the area.
Nitrate levels still reach 10 milligrams per liter in some areas of Preble, Helgren said, but the levels have not gone up significantly, which was the department’s primary concern in 2003.
“They seem to have leveled off, although they do get up over 10 milligrams in some areas,” Helgren said. “We’re doing ongoing monitoring in the public water supplies, keeping people notified if they get over that level.”
Three mobile home parks in Preble had issues with high levels of nitrates, Helgren said, and while an alternative source of water with lower levels was found for one, McBride’s Mobile Home Park, the other two, Mountain View Mobile Home Park and Tully Mobile Home Park, are still looking for a permanent fix.


Village of Homer drafts new tree ordinance

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The recently appointed head of the village’s beautification commission believes a municipality’s aesthetic truly matters.
“It’s very important to have your community looking good, attractive, so people will want to visit, to come downtown and spend money,” said Mary Alice Bellardini, village resident and former mayor.
Bellardini has just rewritten the village’s tree ordinance to help ensure that Homer’s beauty is maintained. The ordinance, which will be subject to a public hearing on June 5 and a Village Board vote, includes a specific clause forbidding “tree topping,” something that has recently occurred in the village and seriously damages trees and their appearance, as well as more detailed information for residents looking to alter trees.
The current tree ordinance does not state when it was drawn up, but Bellardini said she thinks it was at least 30 years ago.
It states that people cannot remove, cut, carve, trim, injure or disfigure any tree standing in the village without approval from the village Board of Trustees.
The rewritten ordinance, however, just applies to street, park and memorial trees, and makes it illegal for any person to “top” or “firm” any of those tree types. Topping is defined as the severe cutting back of limbs larger than 3 inches in diameter within the trees’ crown to such a degree as to remove the normal canopy, thus causing disfigurement to the tree.
Bellardini said tree topping has recently been a problem in the village, with two residents topping two memory trees along Main Street.
“They think it’ll get too tall,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t know why they do it because they look so bad also.”
Memory trees are trees residents bought in memory of someone who died or who was admired and donated to the village. The village has 18 such trees, said Jo Anne Williams, village clerk.


Cincinnatus school district proposal would increase tax rate by nearly 10%

CINCINNATUS — School district residents will have a chance to weigh in on the district’s $11,359,954 proposed 2007-08 budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday during a budget hearing in the Wilbur Auditorium.
District residents will vote on the budget and Board of Education candidates in the new gym foyer between noon and 8 p.m. May 15.
The $11.4 million proposed budget is 8.7 percent higher than the current budget of $10.4 million. The estimated tax levy, or amount to be raised by local property taxes, is $2,867,395. That is up nearly 10 percent from the current levy of $2,607,784.
Superintendent of Schools Steven Hubbard said the tax bill for a house assessed at $50,000 with a state STAR school property tax exemption would increase by $33, while the bill for a house assessed at $100,000 with a STAR exemption would increase by $115.50.
The tax rates for the individual municipalities within the school district will not be known until August after assessment rolls are finalized, Hubbard said.
There are two candidates running for two three-year terms on the board: RayeLynn Kurtz, of 5753 Deer Path Lane, Cincinnatus, the current vice president, and Charles Winters, 809 Route 41, Smithville Flats, who is seeking his first term on the board. Sandra Rausa, current board president, is not seeking re-election.