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June 13, 2013

ULM biology professor awarded grant to study feral hogs in south Louisiana

The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) recently awarded $11,000 to Dr. Kim Marie Tolson, ULM Professor of Biology and Graduate Coordinator, to assess feral hog damage in Louisiana marshes.

"Feral hogs are a growing conservation concern for land managers in the state and all across the south," said Tolson.

"I have witnessed in the last decade an increase in feral hog numbers in the state and have seen firsthand the damage they inflict upon the land."

The grant allows Tolson's team to lease a helicopter and pilot to fly transects across the marshes of Terrebonne Parish, where they will document and map damage inflicted by the rooting and wallowing behaviors of feral hogs.

Their rising numbers also threaten the populations of American alligator nests in Louisiana.

Recently, biologists have documented the depredation of these nests in connection with the rise in feral hog populations, as the pigs are significant predators of the eggs and of newly hatched alligators.

Tolson will partner with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employees Dr. James LaCour, the state Wildlife Veterinarian, and Edmond Mouton, a Biologist Program Manager who has been studying nutria damage in Louisiana marshes.

Graduate student Anthony Ballard will also assist Tolson – he plans to use the data for his master's thesis work.

"The project aims to collect baseline data to help determine the best technique or techniques for identifying and measuring feral hog damage to wetlands," said Tolson.

"Data from the assessment will be provided to federal and state resource managers in an effort to secure funding to establish a regular survey and control program for feral hogs in the costal zone, similar to the Coastwide Nutria Control Program," or the CNCP.

Nutrias are semi-aquatic, beaver-like rodents indigenous to South America that damage the environment by burrowing and feeding excessively on crops and marsh vegetation.

In their case, the CNCP offers five dollars for each nutria removed from the marshes.

Tolson said, "This has provided extra incentive to people to help in removing this introduced species that is damaging such a fragile habitat. We are hoping that a program of this type can be established to help control feral hog invasion into the marsh."

The final report on the funded assessment will be completed by March 2014.

"This grant is just one way that I can 'practice what I preach' to my students," said Tolson.

"That is, to be a good steward of our lands and the environment in which we live. Because of my affiliation with ULM, the university will be on the forefront of this process to curtail the impact of another invasive species on our marsh ecosystems."

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