STERLING -- A couple in this Kenai Peninsula town is pleading with hunters to stay off their land and leave their pigs alone.
''We're dodging bullets. This is crazy,'' said Nicki Eshleman. She says hunters have taken more than 40 of the Russian boars she and her husband, Bob, raise at their farm near Mile 77 on the Sterling Highway.
''We've had people trespassing. On the weekend, we counted about 30 hunters,'' she said
Eshleman accused the Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of encouraging hunters to shoot her pigs -- something both agencies deny. Her family has raised boars for a decade, she said.
Ted Spraker, area wildlife biologist for Fish and Game in Soldotna, said he discourages hunters from shooting the pigs.
However, because loose pigs have damaged Delta farms, it's legal to shoot pigs on public land or on private land, so long as the hunter has the landowner's permission.
''We are encouraging that Bob Eshleman get his pigs caught,'' Spraker said. ''They've been running free for a long time. They've caused numerous complaints. They've destroyed lawns and flowers -- it's just their nature to root.''
Neighbors are divided.
''Most of us are upset that people from outside the area are shooting up those pigs,'' said Dick Hubley, who says he's seen pigs near his home a mile from the Eshlemans' house. ''The pigs have done us no harm and, in fact, we enjoy seeing them.''
He said he has seen lots of apparent pig hunters cruising the road, even though it's illegal to shoot from roads. Jeanne, his wife, said shooters leave carcasses in the woods, and that draws brown bears to the neighborhood.
Laura Gillis said pigs tore out the flower garden at her parents' house, and the Eshlemans never returned her parents' calls.
''They had people saying their pigs were destroying stuff, and they didn't do anything,'' she said.
Fish and Game has had a half-dozen complaints from the Eshleman's neighbors, said Spraker, the state biologist.
Nicki Eshleman said moose frequently knock down her fence. But she denied that the boars were roaming where they could be shot legally.
''We have food for them. They come home every night,'' she said.
Her neighbor has a 160-acre homestead, and they certainly do not roam beyond that, she said. Neither the Eshlemans nor their neighbor allow hunters on their land, she said.
''Our property is posted. Our neighbor's land is posted. They're tearing the signs down,'' she said.
Loose pigs have been a problem for about two years, Spraker said, but recently word seems to have spread that Sterling swine are fair game.
''Bob Eshleman told me that 40 of the 100 boars they owned have been shot,'' he said. ''The last two months, I've heard about it every day. Even at home, people are calling me and asking about hunting pigs.''
The Eshlemans are putting up a stronger fence, he said.
''This isn't something hunters should be doing. Let him have a chance to catch them,'' Spraker said.
Jim Hall, deputy manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said he has seen no sign the Eshlemans' boars have ranged onto nearby refuge lands.
Nor has the refuge encouraged hunters to shoot them, Hall said.
But Hall says he worries the boars could become established on the refuge.
''In the area of Russia they come from, the climate is quite similar to here,'' he said. ''They do survive in the cold in Russia.''
11/2/0 6:13 PM Inches: 4.4 REGULAR BC-AK-BRF-MissingHunter 11-02 0181
Palmer man missing on hunting trip
PALMER (AP) -- Searchers on Thursday failed to find a Palmer man missing on a hunting trip.
Alfred Kochendorfer, 49, was reported missing Tuesday. He had left Oct. 27 for a hunting trip near the face of the Knik Glacier and was expected to return in three or four days.
Kochendorfer left his home on an all-terrain vehicle and had plenty of supplies, including extra gas tanks and cold weather gear. He also carried a gray dome tent.
Troopers searched the area by helicopter Wednesday and Thursday. Five pairs of volunteers on ATVs and volunteers in two fixed-wing aircraft took part in the search Thursday.
Kochendorfer's wife said her husband is familiar with the area and has hunted there before.
Kochendorfer is a white male, five foot eight inches tall, weighing approximately 170 pounds. He has brown hair, a brown beard, and hazel eyes.
Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said rescue volunteers were considering searching with a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera Thursday night.
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