March 25, 2017
March 25, 2017

Unstoppable Hogs

I N FEBRUARY Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller approved the first chemical weapon for use in the war against the state’s seemingly unstoppable population of wild hogs. My guess is that in a year or five we’ll still have a seemingly unstoppable population of wild hogs.
Approved for hog killing was a product that uses a drug called warfarin, which also is used to kill rats and in much smaller doses is approved for specific human use. If this is all we’ve got, we may not have enough.

Current estimates peg the Lone Star pig population at 2.5 million animals. Tomorrow, it’ll be higher—same for the day after tomorrow. Wild hogs have gained an unprecedented foothold not only here but across an increasingly large chunk of these United States.

I won’t waste much space on a history lesson. Pigs came here a long time ago, on sailing ships that landed along the Gulf Coast. Some of the pigs that made the overseas journey without being turned into bacon or chops escaped under cover of darkness (I’m making up that part to add some drama) and found the local landscape attractive.

They’d have found most any chunk of land equally attractive. Pigs are highly adaptable, like giant cockroaches with curly tails and stubby noses. Hot or cold, wet or dry, we’re learning that feral hogs can and do thrive in almost any environment.

What makes them all the more difficult to control are their eat-anything appetites and noses to find food underground. That, and their tremendous reproductive skills.

The most circulated joke that involves wild pigs is one about a sow that had a litter of six piglets, and eight survived. They don’t multiply quite that way, but I recall some research that indicated the need to remove 70 percent of a property’s pigs annually just to maintain the current number.

That’s a lot of dead pigs, and a lot of lead in the air or traps on the ground. Both methods work—killing pigs and trapping them—but the state is betting that poison will work better.

Pig hunting and trapping puts meat on the table, and make no mistake that feral hogs, especially sows lighter than 75 or so pounds, are plenty tasty. There’s a growing market for U.S. feral hog meat in Europe. Prices aren’t quite on parallel with bluefin tuna’s draw in Japan, but the pork can fetch a price north of $20 per pound overseas. Even in our own country, it’s worth $6-$8 per pound under the label of “wild boar”

Farmers and ranchers see pigs as more destructive than delicious. In Texas alone, depending on who you ask, annual damage to rural and suburban property is estimated to be as high as $50 million.

Usually overnight, as few as one and as many as three dozen hogs will find their way through fences and other barriers, then root deeply underground for plant matter, worms or whatever else they can sift from the dirt. At dawn, patches of ground as large as basketball courts can look as though they’d been worked by blindfolded backhoe operators.

If Texans haven’t figured out a way to check feral hog populations by now, we may never achieve that goal. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided we become more proficient at hunting and trapping.

The state spends considerable money each year trying to find new ways to eliminate hogs. Perhaps if they invested more heavily in fine-tuning the old ways, using traps and trappers— then butchering and jetting to Europe the pigs caught in those traps—we at least could sweep some of that grunting sand off our beach.

I’m not convinced that poisoning pigs is the answer. Despite assurances from folks who should know, I still question this substance’s selectivity, and at the second-hand level, its long-term effects on predators and scavengers that come across fresh-dead, poisoned pigs.

Wouldn’t it be great about now if I had a foolproof alternative to that plan? I don’t, though, and neither does anyone else. So, we’ll try warfarin, with fingers crossed and salt tossed over our shoulders.

The score in this game is so lopsided now that we might never catch up. Such is the nature of evolution and the risks associated with introduction, deliberate or not, of non-native species.

The world’s a smaller place these days thanks to jets and the cargo they carry, which often includes “passenger” animals and plants that elude agricultural inspectors. Pigs weren’t the first invasive species to find their way here, and they certainly weren’t the last. But man, oh man, have they proven good at adaptation!

Will Texas or any other state ever shoot its last pig and say, “Good riddance?”

Probably not.

In the meantime, however, the best defense often is a good offense. Or is it the other way around? The pigs don’t care.

No matter how we play this game, whatever play we pull from our playbook, they’ll find a way to flip the odds back in their favor.

The side of me that’s seen the damage caused by hogs to farmland, backyards and (gasp) golf courses wants this poisoning campaign actually to work. The side that loves hunting hogs says if I need to buy more bullets and do my part, I accept the job.

For Texas.

For farmers—and for some pork chops.


Email Doug Pike at [email protected]

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