The Nantucket Land Bank voted unanimously on Tuesday to use leased pigs as an aid in land management and invasive species removal, continuing a program launched last year. Land Bank commissioners enthusiastically endorsed the plan as a potentially game-changing method for corralling invasive species and assisting in forest management.
“I’m ecstatic about the Land Bank finding a sustainable, natural solution to invasives,” commissioner Kristina Jelleme said.
The Land Bank tested the pigs last year on knotweed, an invasive plant, growing on their First Way property. Although the knotweed did grow back, the Land Bank is optimistic that the results will be different this year. Often, these kinds of projects can take multiple years to work, and the Land Bank will also be using younger pigs this year. The hope is that they could pull up the knotweed more aggressively.
Unlike goats - which the town has utilized in recent years to combat invasive species - pigs pull plants up from the roots. As such, they are best utilized to remove unwanted plants rather than trim plants that have grown too large — meaning invasive plants like knotweed are the perfect target. Additionally, pigs have shorter legs than goats and are easier to keep in pens, so they require less labour to manage.
Last year, the Land Bank had an informal arrangement with Moors End Farm to share pigs and they grazed the pigs on knotweed for two months. But this year, Land Bank commissioners want a more structured agreement that would allow them to officially graze the pigs on advantageous parcels of land and study the impacts.
While the details have not been finalized, the Land Bank expects to share the cost of managing the pigs, which should be around $23,000, with Moors End Farm, which will be able to recoup some of the expense by butchering the pigs and selling the pork at the end of the summer season.
In addition to removing invasive species, pigs can help with forest management. The Land Bank has been facing a bevy of forest management concerns recently, as fires, bats, and southern pine beetles have combined to pose a serious threat to the island’s trees. To mitigate these problems, one strategy the Land Bank uses is to reduce the understory in their forests. This is where the pigs come in.
While the Land Bank will only be leasing four pigs this year, it hopes to grow the program in the future, and may even use more animals than just pigs. During the discussion, commissioners also brought up goats and sheep.