I can’t wait to see how well this works out.
Locally sourced pork finally may be on the menu for needy Houston-area families as Harris County Precinct 3 launches its most ambitious effort yet to eradicate feral hogs damaging parkland and neighborhoods around the Barker and Addicks reservoirs.
Within a month, precinct employees hope to begin trapping and transporting the wild pigs to a meat processing facility in Brookshire, where they will be butchered, frozen and distributed to area food banks.
Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved a one-year, $217,600 contract with J&J Packing Co. that begins May 1. The court also OK’d the purchase of metal panels to complete four traps to be erected near the reservoirs in west Harris County.
The approvals were the final steps needed in Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack’s long-standing plan to eliminate, or at least sharply reduce, a prolific hog population in George Bush and Congressman Bill Archer parks, home to the two reservoirs.
“This is the beginning of (the) Harris County hog program in earnest,” Radack declared. “As meat prices go up, we’ll be giving it away.”
Commissioner Radack first floated this idea in 2009, and proposed allowing bow hunters in the parks to deal with the problem. The Army Corps of Engineers put the kibosh on the plan, however, on the grounds of public safety. I presume using traps instead of hunters addresses that issue.
For nearly a decade, off-duty county workers and hired contractors have trapped several hundred hogs a year in the area.
The current plan began to come together early last year when the precinct won a $630,000 federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant to bankroll a study assessing whether hog removal improves water quality, as well as pay for four metal traps and the slaughter and processing of 2,500 pigs.
“It’ll be an ongoing and continuing exercise until we get every pig in that area,” said Mike McMahan, Radack’s special activities coordinator.
The plan is to trap the varmints in four, 4-acre fenced structures – two in each park – where they can survive for up to several weeks, having grass, water and room to move around.
The larger traps will be more effective than smaller ones employees have been using, McMahan said, because the pigs do not realize they are in a trap and are less likely to panic and warn others.
“Pigs become very aware of those situations very quickly,” McMahan said. “Pigs are very smart animals.”
Brian Mesenbrink, a wildlife disease biologist with the Texas offices of Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture branch designated to address human-wildlife conflicts, said the agency is “not against any legal method when it comes to controlling feral hogs,” but said that the trap-and-process concept – “tried in small little operations here and there” – has proved short-lived in other places, mainly because of the cost.
“It’s actually very expensive,” he said, noting that “you don’t get to pick which ones go to market.”
He also warned of the “disease aspect” of such an operation, noting that feral hogs “carry quite a few” and even federal inspectors do not examine every piece of meat.
“It’s like Russian roulette,” he said. “It’s great publicity while it works, but the minute something goes wrong, the minute somebody gets sick, there’s going to be all hell to pay. No one thinks about that going into it. They just see the fuzzy and warm side of it.”
Radack dismissed the disease concern, noting that hunting and eating feral hog is far from uncommon. As for the financial viability of the program, he believes the precinct will be able to secure additional grant money to continue it.
Here’s the Texas Parks and Wildlife information page on feral hogs, which addresses the disease question among others. It’s a concern, but it’s not like there are no concerns about traditional mass-produced meat. I would warn against being optimistic that this plan will actually make a dent in the feral hog population. If it were this easy to keep them in check, there would be no such thing as porkchopping. Beyond that, I see no problems with this. As the story notes, it does connect a problem with a need – there’s already an agreement in place with the Houston Food Bank to receive the hog meat, for which they are grateful. I hope that costs can be managed and that either grant money or philanthropy can cover it as needed. Kudos to Commissioner Radack for having the vision to conceive of this, and for having the persistence to see it through. Texpatriate and Hair Balls have more.