LAST SPRING, TEXAS Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a rule change in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) that classifies a warfarin-based hog lure as a state limited-use pesticide.
The pesticide, Kaput Feral Hog Lure, is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population. It represents a new weapon in the long-standing war on the destructive feral hog population according an agency press release.
“This solution is long overdue,” Commissioner Miller said. “Wild hogs have caused extensive damage to Texas lands and loss of income for many, many years. “With the introduction of this first hog lure, the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”
According to texasagriculture.gov, warfarin, an anticoagulant, was used for many years as a feral swine toxicant in Australia.
“By making this a limited use pesticide, we are taking every step possible to ensure this toxicant is used properly and efficiently,” Commissioner Miller said. “Years of work and study have gone into addressing the concerns of hunters and others about this product.”
After a major controversy ensued, the company producing the hog lure pulled its application, but the hog poisoning issue is not over. Officials with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (WS) have begun conducting tests of a new poison for feral hogs.
These tests started right here in Texas and in Alabama.
“With these in place (environmental assessments),” said WS Deputy Administrator Bill Clay, “we can now begin field trials to help determine the effectiveness of the sodium nitrite toxic bait for removing feral swine sounders in natural settings, as well as any potential impacts to non-target wildlife.”
This allows WS researchers to partner with landowners to identify and target three to nine feral swine sounders (i.e., social groups containing adults and juveniles) each in Texas and Alabama.
Bait delivery systems designed to prevent access by non-target wildlife will be filled with placebo bait, placed in the sounders’ territories and monitored with motion-activated cameras. Following a period of acclimation to confirm feral swine use of the baiting areas, the placebo bait will be replaced with sodium nitrite toxic bait for two nights.
Furthermore, at least 30 feral swine and no more than 30 raccoons in each state’s study area will be live-captured and radio-collared prior to baiting in order to monitor their movements and exposure to the bait. Landowners within 300 meters (328 yards) of bait stations will be notified and signs will be placed on bait stations and along roads leading into the study areas.
Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) is a meat preservative commonly used to cure meats such as sausage and bacon. When eaten in high doses over a short period of time, it is toxic to feral swine. The cause of death is similar to carbon monoxide poisoning. Once enough sodium nitrite bait is eaten, the feral swine gets faint, is rendered unconscious, and quickly dies. In most cases, feral swine die within 2.5 to 3 hours after eating a lethal dose.
According to USDA officials many factors are considered when developing a toxic bait for feral swine. “Not only must it be effective and humane in eliminating feral swine, but also low risk for those handling it, the environment, and wildlife. Other wildlife, such as raccoons, bears and deer, may be attracted to the sodium nitrite toxic bait.
“To prevent non-target species from accessing the bait, WS researchers will use delivery systems and baiting strategies designed for feral swine. Trials will not be conducted in areas with known black bear populations.”
Although federal officials are aware of the potential to harm black bears, last year Texas Fish & Game Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore brought up the impact warfarin could have on javelinas, a Texas native. Sodium nitrite could potentially have the same impact.
At one time, javelinas roamed from the Rio Grande to the Red River, but that range has been cut down to less than half that size. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) roughly 100,000 of these animals now inhabit 62 million acres of rangeland.
“One of the most feral hog dense regions is the javelina’s South Texas stronghold,” Moore said. “Although they are not pigs, they eat many things pigs eat. They readily devour corn put out for deer, soured grain set out to bait hogs and will without any doubt devour this toxic feral hog lure.”
Unlike feral hogs, the javelina is a native species that can easily coexist and compete little with free-ranging whitetail deer, the state’s most popular game animal. The key phrase here is “free-ranging.”
TPWD’s Javelina in Texas publication notes that “Recent downturns in javelina population trends in South Texas appear to follow drought cycles, habitat management treatments, and more recent emphasis on white-tailed deer management, including high fencing and predator control.”
The publication goes on to say that habitat improvement for white-tailed deer, such as food plots, supplemental feeding, and water development improved habitat for javelinas as well. However, in many cases it also exacerbated problems between deer enthusiasts and javelinas.
“Incidental and illegal harvest of javelina due to their perceived nuisance of predation, agricultural damage and competition with deer has added to this decline.” (TPWD).
TF&G’s Moore said, “There is no easy answer to the hog issue, but it is our job to ask questions—tough questions. That is what we will continue to do as this issue continues to take twists and turns.”
—TF&G STAFF Report