Wild boars have spread over three quarters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sparking a controversy between the National Park Service and North Carolina over how to control the shy but ferocious beast.
North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmisten met here yesterday with Assistant Interior Secretary Robert Herbst to protest the Park Service's shooting of several hundred wild boars in the last two years.
The controversy is one of several to erupt recently over the service's policy of eradicating on its land "exotic species" - animals not native to the area. Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus backed off a plan several months ago to shoot wild burros in the Grand Canyon, after protests from environmentalists.
In the case of the boars, however, local hunters, who want to shoot the animals themselves, oppose the plan.
The tusked boar, smaller than a domestic pig, was brought to North Carolina from Eastern Europe in 1910 for a private game reserve. Some escaped and between 500 and 2,000 now roam the park.
Edmisten said he is "offended by the extermination of these feisly little animals. A number of people have hunted them for years and they are edible. But the Park Service shoots them and leaves them to waste in the forest."
After protests from citizens in Robinsville. N.C., the Park Service last month called a moratorium on the shooting until a program is worked out to transport the animals to a state preserve. Edmisten wants assurances from Park Service officials that the eradication program will be permanently halted, and that if any shooting is needed, local residents will be called on.
John Dennis, the Park Service's exotic species expert, said yesterday the Park Service has killed at least 927 boars in the last 18 years. He said they damage vegetation and dig up the soil around streams, causing erosion.
Although Notrth Carolina officials claim the damage to the park's 500,000 acres is minimal. Dennis said "it doesn't matter whether here is a small or large amount of damage. The boars are not part of the natural system of the park, so they should be removed. The philosophy of the Park Service is to preserve native plants and animals."
The controversy heated up in September when Great Smoky officials, frusted by the elusive boarrs, brought in a team of outside hunters with dogs. Although the goal was to kill 100 noars in four days, the hunters inly managed to find one.
"Those gunslingers really made local citizens irate," Edminsten said.
The Park Service has made no commitment to change its policy, but Herbst said his staff would study the issue next month. Edmisten wants Interior to allow a limited boar-hunting season in the park.