Last year's frightening flooding of the Mississippi River didn't do any direct damage to the site of one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War. It did bring in some undesirable new neighbors.
Park officials say a pack of wild hogs seeking higher ground moved in and are rooting up the landscape at Vicksburg National Military Park, an 1,800-acre park where thousands of Union and Confederate troops fought and died in 1863.
They fear the hogs could undermine some of the park's 1,370 monuments, its national cemetery and trenches and earthworks on the bluffs above the river. The hogs could also startle or injure more than 1 million annual visitors.
"It looks like the world's biggest Rototiller has gone through some areas," park Superintendent Mike Madell said. "People think we plowed some of the areas they've been in."
The Mississippi River crested at record 57.1-feet in Vicksburg on May 19, forcing many animals, including hogs, deer and alligators, into new areas.
The hogs are mostly in the northern third of the park, and the dense brush between Graveyard Road and North Union Avenue. Damage to the earth is particularly noticeable around the Indiana Regiment marker.
Madell said rangers have removed 11 hogs since they first appeared in May 2011. He believes about another dozen are still on the loose.
"I came here two years ago and we had a small population," he said. "I'm pretty sure we got all of them, but the flood drove these in and they are finding plenty of food and good habitat, evidently."
"They could do some real damage to a very historic part of the park," Madell said.
The siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863, with Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's forces defeating Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's forces. The series of battles effectively severed the Confederacy's western states and established Union control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln called Vicksburg a key to victory over the Confederacy.
Wild hogs are a big problem across the Southeast and in many areas of Mississippi, especially around Vicksburg, said Jim Walker, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.
"They are terrible, rooting up crops, digging holes, just tearing things up in general," Walker said. "In Mississippi, if you don't have wild hogs count your blessings."
The pigs, which may have formidable tusks and weigh more than 200 pounds, are usually not dangerous, Walker said, unless they are cornered, or you get between a sow and her piglets. But they can be startling when a park visitor stumbles across them.
"We've had visitors occasionally see them, but (the hogs) have not tried to approach them," Madell said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has come in to help the park deal with the hogs. Basically, that means killing them and burying them in a discreet area, Madell said.
"The state of Mississippi does not allow transporting them live," he said. "We did look into possibly donating the meat, but health laws prevent that."
Hogs may be shot anytime of the year in Mississippi, Walker said.
"It's an all-out war on them," he said. "But hunting will never get rid of them. They can breed three times a year and a sow can have eight to 10 pigs each time. You do the math."
Vicksburg National Military Park: http://www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm
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