North Island turtle nests targeted by feral hogs copy

A wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources checks out some feral hog damage on North Island, part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center.

In less than a decade, feral hogs have become a destructive force on North Island.

The barrier island, which is part of the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center, is located about seven miles off Georgetown in between North Inlet and Winyah Bay. It is made up of 1,410 acres of uplands and 1,703 acres of marsh.

Although isolated and accessible to humans only by boat, the island is connected to Hobcaw Barony by marsh.

Jamie Dozier, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, believes that’s how the hogs moved onto the island. He said DNR staff first noticed signs of the hogs in 2006.

Hogs are prolific breeders, so one male and one female will produce generations of offspring fairly quickly, Dozier added.

To combat the hogs, DNR started a trapping program and allows hunters of the island several times a year.

Nearly 50 hogs have been harvested every year for about eight years. Dozier said he believes there are fewer hogs on the island now, although it’s hard to get a specific number.

One of the main concerns DNR has about the hogs is the effect on sea turtle nests.

“They’re impacting an endangered species, loggerhead sea turtles,” Dozier said. “When you’re talking about a species that it’s in trouble like that, protecting every nest is important. And the hogs definitely cause an issue for that.”

Five years ago DNR teamed up with South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts to try and protect the nests.

Betsy Brabson, head of SCUTE’s DeBordieu chapter, leads the volunteers who survey the island three times a week during nesting season.

The first year, only 26 nests were recorded, 24 of which were destroyed by hogs.

The second year, 158 nests were counted, although a 138 of them were destroyed.

“It showed it had huge potential for being a nesting colony,” Brabson said.

That’s when DNR started hunting and trapping, which has proved successful.

In 2012, SCUTE surveyed more than 200 nests and reported very few being destroyed.

However, eliminating the hogs has not eliminated the danger to the nests. In 2014, 75 percent of the nests were destroyed by coyotes and raccoons.

“It’s the food chain. Once the one at the top is removed the others move in,” Brabson said. “Our efforts and the turtles’ efforts are for naught if we can’t control the coyotes.”

Brabson said coyotes are very smart and SCUTE is experimenting with various methods to keep them away from nests. Flags worked in a small test area on the beach at Hobcaw. Brabson’s not sure if it was the colors, or the movement or the sound of the flag snapping in the wind, but the coyotes stayed away from the nests that had flags nearby.

DNR’s latest hog hunts begin this week. Hunts with dogs are scheduled for Feb. 12-14, 19-21 and 26-28 from sunrise to sunset.

Guidelines for the hunts are: no more than four bay or catch dogs per party; no still or stalk hunting; one shotgun per party (buckshot only), and sidearms are permitted; hunters must have a valid South Carolina hunting license with them; all hunters are required to wear a hat, coat, or vest of solid international orange; hogs may not be removed alive.

Hunters should the USDA Wildlife Services call 1-866-4USDAWS, ext. 2, to report any hogs harvested. DNR staff will also be on site to collect information.

For more information, call the Yawkey Wildlife Center at 843-546-6814.