DOVER, Tenn. -- Feral hogs have become a big issue in Land Between the Lakes over the past few years.

They are considered an invasive species, much like Asian carp, because of their lack of predators, high reproduction rates and amount of destruction caused when feeding and nesting. The hogs also have been known to carry a number of diseases, along with many types of parasites that pose threats to humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife in the area.

Last week, a group of government agencies announced a campaign to eradicate feral hogs at LBL using aerial operations in addition to bait trapping.

Crews from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Forest Service met for orientation Nov. 6 at Brandon Spring Group Campground in preparation for aerial operations which will begin this winter when leaves are off trees and visitation to the park is low.

"These animals cause a lot of damage to crops and cultural sites in the area and we want to eradicate them before it gets out of hand," said Brad Robins, with the USDA Wildlife Service for Western Tennessee and Kentucky.

Robins said the swine are not native to the area, and whether they were illegally released here or migrated from other areas, the problem needs attention now.

"In many cases that I have seen, the animals are released by hunters who want to create a new hunting opportunity in the area," added Terri Brunjes, wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Many hunters enjoy pig hunting, but (that) is illegal in Kentucky and the release of these animals is illegal too."

The agencies have previously been using traps to catch and euthanize the animals, but because of the rapid reproduction rate, are falling behind in their efforts.

"In 2018, 70 pigs were euthanized by APHIS. In 2019, that number grew to 124," LBL Public Relations Officer Chris Joyner noted. "Feral hogs can have two litters each year, averaging 5-10 piglets. Those offspring can give birth to a new generation in less than a year."

The agencies will begin using a helicopter to search and direct the hogs for wildlife specialists to shoot. Rangers will be on the ground to make sure no visitors are in the areas targeted for eradication each day.

Animals shot by wildlife specialists will be picked up and disposed of only if they can be safely reached by rangers and agency operatives.

"We will let nature take its course with the carcasses," Robins said. "Many times, the animals are killed in areas that make it almost impossible to find them once on the ground."

Robins reminded visitors, for their own safety, to stay out of areas marked as "Do Not Enter" sites.

"If we see a person -- hunter, camper, or whoever -- on the ground, we will move on to another area," USDA pilot Buster Keaton said.

Park visitors are warned to be cautious when encountering a feral pig, whether in the park or other areas.

"Like any other wild animal, they will most likely run from a human," Keaton said. "They will have smelled or heard you coming and gone to hide before you can see them. If you come across a mother with piglets, she can become defensive so it is best to keep your distance."

Hunters are asked to not shoot the animals because it can hinder eradication efforts.

"Hunting wild hogs is counterproductive to agency eradication efforts," Brunjes explained. "Hogs that are hunted disperse into new areas and become very difficult to find and euthanize."

If you see a feral hog in LBL or other areas, report the sighting to Brunjes at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The USDA and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife will extend eradication efforts to private property free of charge to help euthanize all of the animals in the area. They can be reached at 502-892-4548.