January 17, 2013

Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Hog hunts returning to North Island

Those darned feral hogs on North Island continue to cause problems on the pristine barrier island on the north side of Winyah Bay, but progress appears to be being made in limiting their impact on loggerhead turtle nests.

Those darned feral hogs on North Island continue to cause problems on the pristine barrier island on the north side of Winyah Bay, but progress appears to be being made in limiting their impact on loggerhead turtle nests.

Eggs are obviously a favorite food for the island’s hogs, which love to root into the nests and eat the eggs laid by loggerhead turtles and ground-nesting birds on the island.

The destructive swine also cause damage to the island’s maritime forest and freshwater wetlands and kill native vegetation.

But the biggest issue with the hogs on the island – which contains 1,410 acres of uplands and 1,703 acres of marsh – is their taste for loggerhead turtle eggs.

“[Destroying the turtle nests] are one of the biggest problems they cause,” Jamie Dozier, a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, said. “[Loggerheads] are a threatened species and North Island is an important nesting area for them.”

Since 2006, DNR staff has combated the hogs by two methods – annual hunts with dogs that are open to the public, and by trapping and dispatching the hogs. The public hunts of 2013 are upcoming in February.

Over the past year, a welcome trend has developed in the hogs impact on loggerhead nests, which are laid in the summer from June through August.

“[In 2011], feral hogs took out 99 percent of the sea turtle nests we located on the island,” Dozier said. “That number was down to 5 percent last year. We have reduced the problem but we have to keep working on the problem or it will come back to the level it was if you don’t maintain it.”

Dozier and company have stepped up trapping of the hogs, but he credits the continued combination of the hunts and trapping for the dramatic decrease in the number of turtle nests the hogs have destroyed over the last year.

“We increased the number of traps, but I think it’s not just one year, it’s a cumulative effect,” Dozier said. “I think finally our efforts are starting to catch up. It takes several years to really work on the hog population. It’s a long-term project.

“We were surprised [the number of nests destroyed] went down that much. It may be a one-year blip on the radar, it may jump back up, but we were happy to see that much change.”

This year’s hunts are scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays on Feb. 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 from sunrise to sunset only. North Island is accessible only by crossing Winyah Bay by boat.

Hunters must comply with the following guidelines in order to participate in the North Island hog hunts with dogs:

• No more than four bay or catch dogs per party.
• No still or stalk hunting is allowed.
• One shotgun permitted per party (buckshot only), and sidearms will also be permitted.
• Hog hunters must have in their possession a valid South Carolina hunting license.
• All hunters are required to wear a hat, coat, or vest of solid international orange while hunting.
• Hogs may not be removed from North Island alive.

S.C. DNR staff will periodically be on site to collect pertinent information. For more information contact the Yawkey Wildlife Center at (843) 546-6814.

Waccamaw Conference

The 2013 Waccamaw Conference, an annual educational conference intended for the public to learn about the importance of local natural resources and efforts to protect them, will be held Saturday at the Horry Georgetown Technical College Grand Strand Conference Center near The Market Common in Myrtle Beach.

The event is open to the public and is hosted by the Winyah Rivers Foundation’s Waccamaw Riverkeeper and the Winyah Master Naturalist Association.

“This conference is for those who want to learn more about our changing coastal ecosystems and how managing these changes will protect our local natural resources and the many benefits they provide to our community,” said Christine Ellis of Waccamaw Riverkeeper.

Doors open at 8 a.m. for registration. The public can attend for a $10 donation which includes admission to exhibits, concurrent sessions, snacks and refreshments. Riverkeeper members can attend for $5. The conference concludes at 12:30 p.m.

For more information, call 843-477-2042.

Saltwater Sportsman Seminar

The Salt Water Sportsman National Seminar Series will make a stop in North Carolina at Brunswick Community College’s Odell Williamson Auditorium on Jan. 26. The series’ South Carolina stop will be held at Charleston Southern University’s Lightsey Auditorium on Feb. 9.

Both events will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information or to register, call 800-448-7360 or visit www.nationalseminarseries.com.

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