A landowner's report of seeing a feral hog in northern Phillips County this winter could not be verified by airborne Wildlife Services officials.
"We didn't find any pigs," said John Steuber, state director of the agency. "And we flew 13 ½ hours in good flying conditions. We really scoured it and didn't see any sign or any tracks."
The flights were made over the course of several days.
The area where the wild pigs were reportedly seen was the Frenchman Creek area, a tributary to the Milk River north of Saco that flows south out of Canada creating a deep coulee surrounded by rugged hills.
The non-sighting is a sigh of relief for Montana wildlife and officials who have been bombarded by invasive species and disease outbreaks over the past few years — from detection of invasive aquatic mussels to confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease. Montana is under assault.
The sad part is that sooner or later Montana likely will see feral hogs move in, said Mark Sullivan, Fish, Wildlife and Parks' regional supervisor in Glasgow.
"There's a lot of them up in Saskatchewan," he said, illegally released from game farms after the operations went bust.
Thirty states reportedly have been invaded by feral swine, including North Dakota. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the animals cause $1.5 billion in damage and control costs each year.
"It's kind of like CWD, we're going to get it here eventually, it's just a matter of time," Sullivan said.
The 2015 Montana Legislature apparently agreed, passing a proactive bill to outlaw sport shooting of hogs to keep people from seeing them as a game species, according to Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. North Dakota has a similar law.
"The bill was very carefully crafted," Gevock said.
Senate Bill 100 set a minimum fine of $2,000 for anyone who is caught transporting, importing or possessing feral swine, as well as anyone feeding or trapping, hunting or profiting from the release of wild hogs. Landowners can kill the pigs on their property if they pose an "immediate threat of harm to a person or property."
Wild hogs are known to carry brucellosis and pseudo rabies, Steuber said, and can cause damage to row crops, hayfields, cemeteries and parks, in addition to eating small lambs, ground-nesting birds and rooting up riparian habitat and even archaeological sites.
"They just bring a lot of problems with them," he said.
Anyone who sees a feral pig should contact the Montana Department of Livestock.