Who to blame for invasives? Hunters, wildlife watchers and boats, mainly

wild pigs, feral hogs

Feral Pig Clan/ WI DNR

I got to do a fun  animal info graphic in New York Magazine this week on the wildlife invading New York. The story was prompted by the discovery of breeding wild boar populations in central New York that seem to have leaked from canned hunting farms.  But it gave me a chance to look at some of the biggest culprits in bringing in foreign plants and animals that then take over. Many come by accident in shipping. Some we’re just not sure. But a lot of our pest species came by way of a well-meaning, ambitious person who wanted to either see or shoot the species they knew back home.

Wildlife watchers / birders:

House sparrows and starlings, two of the biggest American invasive species, came here in the 1800s after very deliberate, expensive efforts of wildlife watchers or birders.

Another eccentric group of New Yorkers, the Brooklyn Institute, imported several shipments from England in the 1850. We don’t know what they were thinking: they might have just wanted them to eat pest bugs. After several failures, their releases along the East River, in Union Square and Central Park took, says Sialis.org. And then they took over the continent, mainly by raising about 20 chicks per season by laying successive clutches of nests. They kick out locals faster then Bruce Ratner, killing more than 30 bluebirds or swallows in an hour.

Starlings, which were kept in Europe as talking pets, were brought here by the “American Acclimatization Society,” which set out to introduce the birds people liked back home. Ernest Schieffelin, a big shot drug maker in the Bronx, brought over about 100 starlings from England and released them in Central Park. They then took over the continent. About 6 million live here now and the USDA’s Wildlife Services wipes out about a million a year for the crime of eating birdseed crops.


Hunters hauled animals from Europe and Asia that they wanted to hunt. Sometimes it was for food, but now it’s “sport.” And then they moved them to different parts of the country. Some escaped. The big difference is that hunters and state governments are still doing this, long after we’ve figured out it causes all kinds of damage to crops, livestock and wildlife. Bizarrely, in an era of brutal cuts to education and public safety, New York state still has an immense pheasant stocking program. (More on that later this week.)

Once they find they like hunting a species, they don’t want it completely wiped out. Even as they talk about how they’re helping the environment by keeping it in check. So they argue that they want to hunt white-tailed deer, wild boar and Canada geese, but not really wipe them out. That’s become a major obstacle in states where the wild boar has wandered or introduced. Now the feral pigs have a lobby.

In the last two decades the wild boar became the second most popular big game species in the United States, second only to deer, says John Mayer, a wild boar expert at the Savannah River National Laboratory. “Those hunters reading about it in hunting rags wanted to get in on the game but didnt want to [go all the way down south],” he says. Then they discovered a shortcut: “All you had to do was go south and trap some pigs or somebody was always willing to sell you pigs or just go buy a domestic pig. If you do this in the dark of the night your chances of getting caught are about zero. You can can stuff eight pigs in the back of a pickup very easy.”

In states like Michigan, which enacted curbs on canned pig hunts in December, hunters first dutifully called in every wild boar they say, Mayer says. But those leads have dried up as hunters try to keep boar hunting alive.


deer Where to SEE DEER (and anteloope and reindeer)


pelicanpuffinhummingbird Where to SEE WEIRD BIRDS (All the interesting birds: pelicans, puffins, prairie chickens, vultures, hummingbirds)



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