Most people won’t get off their butts and take action until it’s too late, and I’m afraid that’s what’s happening now.
Will it take looking out your window one morning and seeing a big, hairy brute with beady eyes and a flat nose standing there in your yard, destroying your kid’s swing set to get your attention?
There’s a menace among us, and it is called the feral hog. It is here, it is hungry and mad, and it is not going away on its own.
The Eurasian wild boar, an invasive species, was introduced to Appalachia just over 100 years ago, and ever since, has been running hog-wild across the southern U.S., inter-breeding with domesticated pigs that escape their pens, causing damage wherever they go, and making lots and lots of baby pigs.
Wild hogs are prolific breeders, and they’re tough, smart and resilient. They are capable of producing two litters per year with up to a dozen offspring per litter. Biologists estimate that 70% of wild hogs in Texas would have to be killed each year just to get zero population growth.
Ranchers and rural communities have been acutely aware of these destructive animals for decades, and as their population numbers grow exponentially, and competition for habitat drives them over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house in the suburbs, more people will start to feel the unpleasant effects of these pig-headed creatures.
Wildlife biologist Josh Sears says that as a landowner, he’s disturbed by both the ecological and economic damage that feral hogs cause. “The damage they cause is significant, especially to valuable farmlands and river ecosystems,” he said. “Personally, I have lost thousands of dollars in damages to wildlife feeders, trail cameras and crop damage. On a recent trip to Mason, I saw an oat/clover mix feed plot that was devastated, and a sounder of pigs forty-strong was seen nearby.”
Other farmers and ranchers have told me of damage to fences, water troughs, and even heavy equipment that they have inadvertently driven into hard-to-see ruts created by rooting hogs. The main form of damage caused by the rooting habits of wild hogs, says Sears, is the destruction of plant communities, which contributes to soil erosion and loss of cropland. He added that long-term studies suggest that feral hog impact may also affect the health and behavior of other animal communities, such as rattlesnakes and quail.
As feral hog ranges expand and overlap with other animal niches, and then further encroach on city limits, more people likely come into unwanted contact with these aggressive animals, and Texas’ short-sighted political leaders will, if they hold true to form, wait until a rattlesnake bites them on the butt before they start thinking about developing an antivenin.
But there are places where people are already on the job, Some are using technology to control trap gates remotely using cell phone commands; others are using poisons to control pig populations, but this method can significantly impact other animal species, especially vultures and other scavengers that feed on carcasses.
One of the most effective ways to kill a pig is to shoot it, and whether it’s by creating a diner market for wild pork, helicopter hunting trips, hog-hunting leases, or even bounties ($5 per tail in Caldwell County), mixing business with ecological benefits will be the most likely winner in Texas when it comes to a control plan.
Sears, who has spent his life either studying wildlife or pursuing it, has this stern alert: If you’re in the rare percentage of Texas that isn’t plagued with a viable wild hog population, be thankful. Furthermore, be prepared, because they’re coming to a theater near you.