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Feral hogs root way across Texas

Profile image for By Julieta Chiquillo,  The Dallas Morning News
By Julieta Chiquillo, The Dallas Morning News

Mike Brewer has tried all kinds of corn bait to lure feral hogs into a $1,000 trap at his Sunnyvale pecan orchard. He even mixed the corn with strawberry gelatin because the pigs love strawberries.

Nothing.

The hogs dig around the trees and trample the earth. They eat his pecan harvest off the ground. It costs Brewer and his wife, Kathy, weeks and weeks of labor to patch up the soil around the trees.

"It's a constant battle," Brewer said this month.

Wild pigs may not look like much, but they're among the most intelligent animals in the United States, which makes them formidable adversaries. And they've taken over Texas and have been documented in every county, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"If you're not already dealing with pigs, you're going to," said Brett Johnson, an urban biologist for the city of Dallas.

Feral pigs roam near a Mertzon ranch in 2009. AP file photo
Feral pigs roam near a Mertzon ranch in 2009. 
AP file photo

The pigs cost Texans about $52 million in agricultural damage every year.

Even if you're not a farmer, here's why you should be concerned: Feral hogs tear up lawns, parks and golf courses; they skulk around highways and train tracks; and they poop in our water supply. Estimates peg the number of wild pigs in the U.S. at 4 million or more -- and somewhere between 2 million to 3 million are in our state.

Sure, Texas is a gun-friendly state, but don't assume that getting rid of wild pigs is as easy as shooting or poisoning them. Population control is far more complicated than the state agriculture commissioner's stalled plans for a "Hog Apocalypse."

What you need to know

Here's what Texas wildlife experts say about feral hog management, including speakers at a recent conference hosted by the North Texas Municipal Water District and other agencies:

Wild pigs can have two litters a year, typically giving birth to three to eight piglets per litter. Texans would have to remove two-thirds of the feral hog population every year to keep the number of pigs stable. Right now, the state is removing 29 percent of the population.

They are mostly nocturnal, seeking cover near water and eating plants and other animals. About 79 percent of the land mass in Texas is considered suitable environment for wild pigs, which descended from hogs brought in by European settlers in the 1500s.

Adult feral hogs don't have many natural predators and are highly adaptable. Tepid efforts to capture them may result in "trap-smart" pigs. Unprovoked attacks against humans are rare.

Some cities have taken up abatement efforts. Earlier this year, Dallas leaders approved a three-year $347,000 contract with a trapping company that corrals pigs on city-owned land and sells them to a meat-processing plant in Fort Worth.

What are my options?

Traps: Box traps are usually good for one or two pigs, or small herds of swine, called sounders. The bigger corral traps catch many hogs at once. The automated kind use video to allow you to monitor the trap and its gate from your computer or cellphone but can set you back thousands of dollars in equipment.

Check whether your city has any rules against the trapping of wildlife.

Fences: Any type of fence can help keep pigs away from your lawn and flower beds in urban and suburban areas. Electric fences are one choice, but some homeowners are reluctant to use them because of children. Some homeowner associations and cities might also prohibit their use, so do your homework.

Guns: Texas law requires a hunting license and the landowner's permission to shoot wild pigs.

If you are the landowner or a designated agent, however, you don't need a hunting license to dispatch a hog causing damage on your property. But who is a "designated agent" is fuzzy, so check with your local game warden.

In the end, you may not be able to shoot at all: It's illegal to discharge a gun in some cities, including Denton.

Choppers: Helicopters, that is. Texas law allows landowners to contract with gunners to take out hogs from above. There are rules, of course. The hunter must file paperwork with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Local trappers: You may find leads in Texas hunting magazines and newspaper classifieds, or by asking employees of chambers of commerce, feed stores and swine-holding facilities.

A group called Texas Hog Hunters Association keeps an online list of hogtrappers.

What to avoid

Setting off traps without doing reconnaissance: Get a rough head-count. Johnson, the city of Dallas biologist, suggests that you wait to trap the sounder instead of individual pigs so that other pigs don't become aware of the trap.

Poison, at least for now: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller spoke enthusiastically about a "Hog Apocalypse" earlier this year when he approved the use of a controversial poison called Kaput Feral Hog Bait.

The poison contains a chemical called warfarin, an anticoagulant that makes pigs bleed internally, ending in slow, painful deaths.

Some people voiced concerns about the unknown effect on the food chain, and the manufacturer withdrew its state registration for the poison.

How to get help

Contact your city or county to find out whether they have hog control programs or referrals.

Check official resources for instructions on how to build a trap and other abatement measures, such as "coping with feral hogs" by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at feralhogs.tamu.edu; a guide by Texas Parks and Wildlife at tpwd.texas.gov/publications; or a guide on feral swine management shared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at usda.gov.

Contact your district of Texas Wildlife Services, a program that combines federal and state resources and that is authorized by law to control feral hogs and other animals. The Fort Worth district, which covers North Texas, can be reached at 817-978-3146.