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feral hogs

Warning labels, schmarning labels

Sid Miller, ladies and gentlemen, addressing the concerns of rancher Bruce Hunnicutt about the use of poison to try to control the feral hog population.

Hunnicutt, 58, operates a hog hunting business on 30,000 acres — he owns 600 and leases another 24,000 — in Northeast Texas. He regularly sends the meat of the pigs they kill home with his clients.

When he couldn’t find answers online, he called the agriculture department to get more information. To his surprise, he got a return call from Commissioner Sid Miller, who assured Hunnicutt the poison would be safe to humans and other wildlife, and directed him to his Facebook page for more information on the poison that’s marketed under the name Kaput.

When Hunnicutt found the product’s label, he was so alarmed he called his state representative.

“That label didn’t look anything like what the man [Miller] told me on the phone —I thought, ‘My god, that can’t be right — people can’t eat this,’ ” he said. “How in the world can you put something in the human food chain that can kill somebody, to kill an animal that people eat?”

When he traveled to Austin to meet with Rep. Gary VanDeaver, he got the chance to address Miller in person.

In the March 3 meeting set up by VanDeaver’s office, which was recorded with Miller’s permission, the commissioner responded to some of Hunnicutt’s safety concerns by saying that his agency could change the poison’s federally approved label to eliminate an important warning — as well as a requirement to bury the carcasses of poisoned hogs, which Miller said simply wasn’t “doable.”

In the recording, which Hunnicutt provided to The Texas Tribune, Hunnicutt says: “That product label right there says ‘all animals’ … every one of them has to be recovered and put 18 inches under the ground. How you going to do that? … How you going to find all of them, Mr. Miller?”

“I guess we should take that off the label, it’s not doable,” Miller says. “We’ll take it off.”

Hunnicutt then referred to the label’s warnings about the dangers of the poison to other wildlife and domesticated animals.

“Animals that feed on those carcasses are going to die. It can kill them,” he told Miller. “Whether you say it or not, the label says it will.”

Miller responded: “We can adjust that too.”

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, growing increasingly tense, before Miller finally stood up and walked out.

“It’s like he wasn’t listening to me, he had his mind made up, he had his little dog and pony show he’s been putting on this whole time,” Hunnicutt said.

See here for the background. I mean, who even reads warning labels, am I right? They can say whatever you want them to, no one will be the wiser. I have no idea how ol’ Sid didn’t get picked to be Trump’s ag secretary. They’re two unregulated peas in a pod. The Press has more.

No more feral hog poison

It was not to be.

The manufacturer of a controversial bait used to kill feral hogs withdrew its state registration for the poison, putting Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s plans for a Texas “Hog Apocalypse” on hold.

“We have received tremendous support from farmers and ranchers in the State of Texas, and have empathy for the environmental devastation, endangered species predation, and crop damage being inflicted there by a non-native animal,” Colorado-based company Scimetrics wrote in a news release Monday. “However, under the threat of many lawsuits, our family owned company cannot at this time risk the disruption of our business and continue to compete with special interests in Texas that have larger resources to sustain a lengthy legal battle.”

Earlier this year, Miller announced that he wanted to use the poison to take out the state’s invasive feral hog population and that using the poison could save the Department of Agriculture $900,000 that was designated for feral hog control. He wrote that the poison could mean “the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”

The poison was classified as a “state-limited use pesticide,” which means anyone wishing to use it must be licensed by the department. Scimetrics withdrawing its registration means the department can no longer license people to use the poison — a move Miller called a “kick in the teeth for rural Texas.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that once again the hard working folks who turn the dirt and work from sunup to sundown have fallen victim to lawyers, environmental radicals and the misinformed,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “Once again, politically correct urban media hacks and naysayers win out against the rural folks who produce the food and fiber everyone needs.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Just for the record, the bill to require a state study of the use of any pesticide in this manner – which was filed by a Republican from Denton – passed the House by a vote of 128-13. Who knew there were so many “environmental radicals” in the Legislature? Clearly, the place has gone to hell since ol’ Sid was there. This doesn’t have to be the end for warfarin, the poison in question. There’s no reason why a study on its environmental effects couldn’t be done. Maybe a Texas governmental agency with an interest in such a study – like, say, oh, I don’t know, the Texas Department of Agriculture – could put up some grant money to fund one. Just a thought. The Trib has more.

Hog apocalypse update

The poison plan for controlling feral hogs is set to be put on pause by the Legislature.

A bill poised to pass the Texas House would amend the Texas Agriculture Code to prohibit the Department of Agriculture from registering, approving for use or allowing use of any pesticide for feral hog control unless a study by a state agency or university recommends such action.

That legislation – HB 3451, by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton – was filed in the wake of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s emergency rules issued earlier this year (and since suspended by a state judge) that set regulations for use of the first pesticide approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use controlling feral hogs. Texas holds more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species causing significant environmental and economic damage in the state. While extermination of feral hogs is almost universally approved by Texans, the move allowing use of the pesticide proved controversial, drawing intense opposition from a wide range of individuals and organizations concerned about the potential negative effects on humans and non-target animals from warfarin, the pesticide’s active ingredient.

Stucky’s bill, which has more than 120 House members as co-sponsors, sailed through its committee hearing, initial procedural readings on the House floor and could see final passage by the House as soon as this week.

The bill can expect to be well received in the Texas Senate, where a companion bill – SB 1454 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – has almost a third of the Senate as co-sponsors.

See here and here for the background. That column was published on Wednesday. HB3451 was postponed, first till Thursday and then till Monday, at which time it was overwhelmingly approved by the full House.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors.

[…]

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.

Lotta love for ol’ Sid there. SB1454 has not had a committee hearing yet. Sure seems likely this will pass, especially given that House vote, but it’s never over till it’s over in the Lege. There’s more about other outdoors-related bills in that column, so check it out if that’s your thing.

Let’s have a study of that hog apocalypse first

Maybe we should figure out what the effects of poisoning feral hogs might be before we start poisoning them.

Two bills from Texas lawmakers — state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs.

The legislation comes after outcry from Texas hog hunters and meat processors over state approval of a new feral hog poison called Kaput, which they say would hurt their businesses and contaminate other game animals and livestock. A state judge issued a temporary restraining order against the rule on March 2. Wild Boar Meat, the Hubbard-based company that sued to stop use of the poison, processes hog meat to sell to pet food companies.

Kaput contains a chemical called Warfarin, which at varying concentrations is used as a rat poison and a blood thinner in humans. It causes hogs that consume it to die of internal bleeding, a process that takes four to seven days.

House Bill 3451 and Senate Bill 1454, both filed this week, would require scientific studies of the poison to include controlled field trials and assess the economic consequences to the state’s property owners, hunters, and agriculture industry.

[…]

When Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a state rule change in February that allowed the use of Kaput — which the Environmental Protection Agency approved for feral hog control earlier this year — he called the poison a “long overdue” solution to the extensive damage the wild pigs cause every year.

“The ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon,” said Miller, who as a state legislator passed a measure known as the “pork-chopper bill” that allowed the hunting of hogs by helicopter in 2011.

The department has defended the new rule, saying it imposes licensing restrictions to protect against misuse of the poison.

See here for the background. On the one hand, it’s long been clear that hunting the hogs, even with no restrictions or bag limits and even from helicopters, will never be enough to slow down the population growth. Warfarin is approved by the EPA, and it just might work. On the other hand, it’s hard to take seriously any claim by Sid Miller that’s he’s being a careful and conscientious steward of the environment. On balance, I’d say it’s better to be a bit more deliberate with this.

If you can’t porkchop ’em, poison ’em

The war on feral hogs enters a new phase.

At a Feb. 21 news conference in Austin, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced the agency had issued a rule that would allow Kaput Feral Hog Bait, a pesticide containing the anticoagulant warfarin as its active ingredient, to be used in the control of feral hogs. The emergency rule, issued Feb. 6, makes Texas the first and, so far, only state to adopt regulations allowing the use of a lethal toxicant – poison – to control the invasive swine.

Miller, who as a member of the Texas Legislature in 2011 sponsored a successful bill allowing aerial gunning of feral hogs by private citizens with the permission of landowners, trumpeted the new rule as a significant advance in the state’s ongoing war against feral hogs, which compete with native wildlife, carry and transmit diseases such as brucellosis, and annually cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to property, including an estimated $50 million in annual losses to agriculture.

“I am pleased to announce that the ‘feral hog apocalypse’ may be within Texans’ reach with the introduction of Kaput’s hog lure,” Miller said.

Miller’s action was made possible by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s conditional registration last month of Kaput Feral Hog Bait under the federal statutes governing pesticide use across the country. Kaput, the brand name of pesticides produced by Colorado-based Scimetrics Ltd. Corp., is the first and, so far, only toxicant approved by federal authorities for use in feral-hog control.

Warfarin, laced in prepared baits designed to be eaten by feral hogs, is toxic to pigs in the same way that it is lethal to rats, mice and other rodents for which the substance has been used as a toxicant for more than 60 years. Warfarin has therapeutic uses – it is one of the most common medications taken by humans as a blood-clot preventive. But ingested in sufficient quantities by some mammals, warfarin triggers fatal internal hemorrhaging.

Warfarin’s effects are anything but therapeutic in pigs. Feral hogs’ physiology makes them susceptible to warfarin’s toxic effects at a much lower dose than almost any other animal, research has shown. The percentage of warfarin the Kaput Feral Hog Bait approved by EPA is 0.005 percent by weight – five times lower than the 0.025 percent warfarin by weight used in rats/mice baits.

The poison has proven very effective at killing feral hogs, according to research conducted in Texas by Genesis Labs, a sister company of Scimetrics.

[…]

To limit exposure of non-target species such as deer, raccoons, birds and other that might ingest the baits, protocols for distributing it mandate use of a specially designed feeder with a heavy “guillotine” door that must be lifted to access the bait. Feral hogs have little trouble using their stout snouts to lift the door, while the door’s weight and mode of operation stymies most other wildlife.

Additionally, use of the pig poison in Texas will be restricted. Under the rule change announced by Miller, the warfarin-based bait is classified as a “state-limited-use pesticide,” and it can be purchased and used only by state-licensed pesticide applicators.

Landowners or others who want to use the hog toxicant on property in Texas and who do not hold the required license will have to hire a licensed applicator to legally set up the approved bait dispensers and distribute the bait. That almost certainly will limit its use.

Some Texans would rather it not be used at all.

In the wake of Miller’s announcement, the Texas Hog Hunters Association initiated an online petition to have the rule revoked. The group cites concerns about the potential human health effects of eating feral hogs that have ingested the warfarin-infused baits as well as questions about collateral damage to non-target species such as deer or domestic dogs that ingest treated baits and possible secondary poisoning of animals and protected birds such as hawks and eagles.

As of early Saturday, the online petition at change.org had garnered 10,400 supporters.

Texas Department of Agriculture statements counter those concerns, noting the low levels of warfarin in hogs that consume the baits pose little threat to humans, especially if they avoid eating the animal’s liver, where most of the warfarin will be concentrated. Also, the bait contains a blue dye that transfers that color to the fatty tissues of hogs. Hunters taking a hog and finding blue-tinted fat can decline to eat the animal.

Here’s the petition in question. It turns out that these hunting groups did more than just create a petition, and they got some results.

A Waco-area feral hog processor on Monday said he was racing to get a bill filed that would shoot down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s call for a “hog apocalypse” through use of a poisonous bait.

Will Herring, owner of Wild Boar Meats, last week won a court order temporarily halting Miller’s Feb. 21 rule allowing use of “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” arguing the measure would spook pet food companies he sells to and put him out of business. Herring said he’d since secured Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, as primary sponsor for legislation that would require study of chemicals before they are approved. The deadline to file bills for the current state legislative session is Friday.

“All our bill says is, ‘Let’s have a state agency and/or state educational institution study this poison and any other poison before it before it becomes legal,’” Herring said from Austin, where he was recruiting state lawmakers to back the bill. “There’s not one public study, and by public study I mean a study available to the public, that has looked at using the product Kaput to poison feral hogs.”

[…]

Herring said he was processing as many as 5,000 hogs a month and was getting ready to break ground on a new facility when Miller announced a rule that could potentially put he and other wild hog processors out of business.

“We have not developed a way to test for it, nor have we developed a way to inactivate it,” Herring said. “If someone said, ‘Look, I only want to buy warfarin-free wild hog meat,’ we do not know a way that we could guarantee that. And that’s a problem to me.

“It’s not just me that’s concerned about this,” Herring added. “I only do the pet food business. There’s a couple of companies that deal with the human consumption business, and it’s the same issue.”

Herring last Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Miller’s rule, with the Texas Hog Hunters Association and Environmental Defense Fund filing supporting briefs. State District Judge Jan Soifer in Austin on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order stopping Kaput use in Texas until March 30, saying the TDA did not follow the Texas Administrative Procedures Act and agreeing that allowing Kaput would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to Wild Boar Meats.

All right then. I have some sympathy for the hunters here, because introducing poison into the environment, even in a fairly controlled fashion like this, carries a higher level of risk. Even with the protocols in place, there’s no way to fully prevent unintended consequences of this. It should be noted that this isn’t the first attempt at poisoning the pigs, but it is the first one with an EPA-approved toxin. We’ll see how this plays out in court, and I’ll keep my eyes open for an anti-warfarin bill in the Lege; as of yesterday, I didn’t see anything authored by Rep. Kacal that sounds like this.

One way to approach the feral hog problem

This has some promise.

The Caldwell County Feral Hog Task Force, a volunteer group [Nick] Dornak started two years ago, is now at the forefront of the state’s patchwork effort to control the wild swine population boom that is hurting farmers, frustrating hunters and poisoning the water in some beloved Central Texas streams and creeks.

Dornak was running the task force’s monthly feral hog bounty claim — hunters and trappers get $5 for every tail or receipt for a hog sale they turn in — when he set up his table across the street from the hallowed Texas barbecue hall that is Kreuz Market.

Kreuz and other pork-serving establishments use a different kind of oinker for their short ribs. Domesticated pigs are like Babe: pink, round and thinly furred. Feral hogs are like Chewbacca: dark, muscular and hairy. And they’re big. A man in Stephenville caught a 790-pounder on his ranch this year.

While many people are familiar with the havoc feral hogs have wreaked in recent years on the agricultural industry by eating crops and digging ruts in fields that can break farm equipment, Dornak, the coordinator of the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership, came to the subject from a different angle.

“The hogs use streams and rivers as highways, which is a really, really big environmental issue,” he said. “They defecate in and near the water, and we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds of feral pig manure in the state of Texas.”

As a result, the E. coli level in Plum Creek is now three to five times higher than what is considered safe for recreational activities like swimming, Dornak said.

The task force, which has received about $100,000 in funding from the county and state, runs the bounty for hunters, provides vouchers for farmers to buy traps, contracts with a helicopter operator that lets veterans shoot swine from the sky and manages three “smart traps,” enormous smartphone-controlled corrals that can trap entire sounders, or families, of hogs at once.

Their efforts have resulted in 8,300 silenced swine in Caldwell County, one of the most afflicted areas in the hog boom that began about 20 years ago. Dornak says it’s the only county-based group of its kind in Texas, and he has been invited to speak in other areas of the state about tackling the problem from the local level.

“We’re kind of the shining star in the state as far as feral hog control,” he said.

See here for more about feral hogs and our efforts to control them than you want to know. Dornak is on to something here, but as with any other effort to keep the hog population in check it is limited by the number of people who are willing and able to get out there and hunt the varmints. The hogs have the advantage here, and they seem to know it. Still, every little bit helps.

Another kind of feral hog to worry about

Texas now has a warthog problem.

Over its 46-year history, the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area has been the site of a long list of achievements that cemented its reputation as the premier state-owned wildlife and wildlife habitat research, education and public hunting complex in South Texas.

This year, the “Chap” added a new feat to that list. But it’s not one the staff of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s 15,200-acre tract in Dimmit and LaSalle counties wanted or covets.

“I’m guess now we’ll be known as the first public hunting area in North America where a hunter harvested a warthog,” said Stephen Lange, Chaparral WMA manager.

And not just one warthog. During public deer hunts on the Chaparral WMA this autumn, hunters have taken four warthogs, wild swine native to Africa and cousins of the feral hogs whose booming population swarms like locusts over Texas’ landscape causing millions of dollars of property damage and untold harm to native wildlife, habitat and other natural resources.

The Chaparral WMA is in the center of what evidence indicates is a growing, range-expanding, self-sustaining feral population of African warthogs, the first such population on this continent. And that worries state wildlife managers such as Lange, who see the non-native warthogs, which can weigh more than 200 pounds, as having the potential to negatively affect native wildlife and habitat.

“There certainly are some concerns,” he said of evidence warthogs are gaining a cloven-hoofed hold in South Texas. “Any non-indigenous animal competes with native wildlife for resources.”

You can say that again. Warthogs have only been seen in the wild for a year or so, after presumably escaping from a private ranch to which they had been legally imported. Feral hogs had been here for a long time before causing a problem, so maybe it will be awhile before these critters do the same. They do breed like feral hogs, though, so don’t think the problem will just go away. Like feral hogs, they can be hunted without limit, though whether they can be pork-chopped or not is unclear to me. Perhaps like feral hogs, whose menu name is “wild boar”, you will see these on the menu of the more adventurous restaurants in town. I suppose that will be a small consolation for whatever problems they do cause.

Update on Radack’s feral hog plan

So far, so good.

More than 100 hogs have been caught since July in a new Harris County Precinct 3 mitigation program designed to protect waterways and feed the poor by donating the meat of trapped pigs to the Houston Food Bank.

“We’re turning these pigs, a major nuisance and very destructive animal, into a valuable food resource,” said Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, whose district includes parts of seven independent school districts including Katy, Houston and Cy-Fair. “I think this could be a model program.”

The Precinct 3 program, run in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is being funded by a $630,000 Coastal Impact Assistance grant to study whether removing hogs can slow down the erosion and pollution of waterways, which they cause. The funding paid for the construction of four 4-acre traps – the smaller waist-high traps are set up alongside them for moving the animals _ and for the captured hogs to be packaged for the Houston Food Bank at the only processing plant in the region federally certified to inspect the wild meat.

[…]

Mike McMahan hopes the new program can make a dent in the area’s rising population of wild pigs. As weather cools and the hogs become more active, the Precinct 3 Special Projects Coordinator predicts about 100 will be trapped each week.

In August, environmental scientists conducted baseline tests that will be compared to results during and after the program to measure its effect on water quality.

Two 4-acre traps, or pens, were built at Addicks Reservoir and two at Barker Reservoir. Feeders inside the pens release corn on an automatic timer, attracting hogs to push through one-way doors from outside. The containment areas are large enough that the hogs can continue with natural behaviors until a collection is made. To do that, a Harris County crew sets up smaller 16-by-3 foot cages along the pens, turns off the interior feeders and unlocks one-way doors into those smaller traps, sometimes using feed to draw them in. The next morning, the group drives out to the secluded site by off-road buggy, moves the pigs into a custom trailer with a misting system and hauls them to the processing plant in Brookshire.

About 6,000 pounds of hog meat has been donated to the Houston Food Bank so far, compared to the 460,000 pounds of other meats distributed by the nonprofit each month.

Only one pig of the more than 100 has failed inspection, McMahan said.

See here for the background. As I said before, I wouldn’t expect this to make much of a dent in the hog population, but it’s still a good idea on its own merits. Helping the Food Bank is always welcome, and who knows, maybe if this kind of thing proliferates enough it could make a difference. I hope they meet and exceed their projections.

A poison plan for feral hogs?

It could work, though probably not any time soon.

A preservative used to cure bacon is being tested as poison for the nation’s estimated 5 million feral hogs.

[…]

The USDA program that began in April includes $1.5 million for the research center headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Its scientists have made sodium nitrite studies a top priority.

Sodium nitrite, used as a salt to preserve meat, can keep red blood cells from grabbing oxygen in live animals. Unlike people and tested domestic animals, pigs make very low levels of an enzyme that counteracts the chemical. Swine that eat enough sodium nitrite at once show symptoms akin to carbon dioxide poisoning: They become uncoordinated, lose consciousness and die.

But baits so far haven’t hit the 90 percent kill rate on penned pigs (feral or domestic, they’re all the same species) needed for EPA consideration. Once it does, approval could take up to five years, Cunningham said.

One problem is creating baits in which pigs will eat a lethal dose. Sodium nitrite tastes nasty and breaks down quickly in the presence of air or water, making it easier for pigs to smell and avoid, said Fred Vercauteren, project leader in Fort Collins.

Microencapsulating the powder masks its smell and keeps it stable longer.

“We’ll work on that throughout the summer,” Vercauteren said.

There are other issues, including keeping the bait away from other animals. The story refers to a solar-powered “Hog Annihilation Machine” that is supposed to open only when it hears hog noises, while delivering a shock to other animals. Is science great or what? We’ll see how this goes.

Feral hogs cross the border

You can’t stop them, and hoping to contain them is not looking so likely, too.

If nothing else, the voracious wild hogs that years ago destroyed the lucrative melon and cantaloupe harvests in this isolated border city — and are now ruining the alfalfa, corn and oat crops — have discriminating tastes.

“They like vanilla. It really attracts them,” Leonel Duran, an animal control agent for the state of Chihuahua, said as he stirred two bottles of Vera Cruz vanilla extract into a blue barrel of fermented corn.

When the concoction was ready, the crew hauled it to a large octagonal trap in a fallow field near the dry, narrow channel of the Rio Grande. The mix was quickly spread inside, followed by dry corn and stale rolls.

With the sun going down, the wily, nocturnal hogs would soon be up, and drawn to the trap.

The people who farm the oasis-green irrigated croplands around here, just across the border from Presidio, are just the latest to suffer from hog predations.

Omnivorous and intelligent, the non-native beasts now roam almost all of Texas, as well as most of the continental United States and Hawaii.

Some 5 million feral hogs are found throughout the country and in almost every habitat, spreading as far north as Canada from their original territory in the South.

“They have expanded their range from 17 to 39 states in the last 30 years, and cause damage to crops, kill young livestock, destroy property, harm natural resources, and carry diseases that threaten other animals, as well as people and water supplies,” said Edward Avalos, a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, noting in a news release that hogs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage and control costs each year.

In April, the USDA launched a $20 million hog-control program, a move some see as a long overdue.

“We’ve been singing about pigs from the choir loft for years. Congress finally caught on. They didn’t hear us, they heard the landowners,” said Mike Bodenchuk, state director for Texas Wildlife Services, a federal-state cooperative.

We’ve been exporting feral hogs domestically, so I guess this was the natural next step. I’m sure that somewhere Ted Cruz is muttering incoherently about “sealing the border”. Beyond that, the most interesting thing I learned from this story is that El Paso is the only one of Texas’ 254 counties to not have any hogs in it. I don’t know what your secret is, El Paso, but good luck maintaining that.

Eat ’em all up

It sure would be nice to think that we could solve our invasive species problems by eating them all, but we probably can’t.

Would you want this for dinner?

It seems like a simple proposition: American lakes, rivers and offshore waters are filling up with destructive fish and crustaceans originally from other parts of the world, many of them potential sources of food.

So why not control these invasive populations by getting people to eat them?

The idea has gained momentum recently from the lionfish, which invaded the Gulf of Mexico but was successfully marketed to restaurants and today appears to be in decline.

But businesses and scientists have struggled to repeat this apparent triumph with other species. Some, such as Asian carp, are not appetizing to Americans. Others, like feral hogs, reproduce too quickly to make a dent. And then there’s the question of whether turning them into sought-after cuisine undermines the larger goal of eliminating them.

“Eating invasive species is not a silver bullet,” said Laura Huffman, the Nature Conservancy’s director in Texas. But it can still be “a way to get people engaged in the topic and in the solution.”

The lionfish, a striped saltwater species with a flowing mane of venomous spines, is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and was first spotted in parts of the Gulf and off the East Coast a little more than 10 years ago. The skilled predators damage reefs and devour native fish, and they are eaten only by sharks — or larger lionfish.

People soon learned that beneath the lionfish’s spiky skin lies a buttery, flaky meat that is perfect for ceviche, taco filler or as an alternative to lobster. After a few years of intense fishing and brisk fillet sales, the population is dropping.

But similar efforts targeting feral hogs, Asian carp and the Himalayan blackberry have been far less successful.

This subject comes up a lot, mostly in the context of feral hogs. Indeed, two years ago Texas Monthly proposed a culinary solution to our invasive species problem. It’s worked pretty well for lionfish and giant prawns, but some invasives just aren’t that appetizing, while the aforementioned hogs just reproduce too much to make an appreciable dent in their population that way. Plus, as the story notes, turning invasive species into a cash crop provides for some perverse economic incentives, and likely isn’t a net winner. Make some lemonade if you can, but don’t expect it to be more than that.

The feral hogs of Montgomery County

Because three blog posts about feral hogs are better than two.

Feral hogs – which some find more pesky than mosquitoes and more invasive than fire ants – are alive and well in Montgomery County.

Officials in The Woodlands say that there have been no recent sightings of wild pigs in neighborhoods – but in a growing problem has been reported throughout the county.

“We have not been hearing anything about feral hogs for the better part of several years,” Chris Nunes, director of parks and recreation for the Township, said.

He said that the boars generally reside in larger spaces – closer to water sources like creeks.

“We know of them in natural preserves,” Nunes added. “When it’s dry, they come into neighborhoods looking for food.”

Recent rains have resulted in no sightings, he said.

Keith Crenshaw, with the Houston branch of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Urban Wildlife Program, said swine in the city stay near drainage ditches and flood control corridors.

Crenshaw said Kingwood had an increase in sightings in October, after land was cleared and the way was opened for hogs to move into neighborhoods.

“The wildlife will disperse,” he said. “And hogs don’t have a major predator other than people.”

Still, Crenshaw maintains that wild pigs may live in suburban areas without humans knowing.

“It’s totally likely that people aren’t even aware they’re here,” he said.

[…]

As the county’s human population continues to grow and more land is developed, [Montgomery County extension agent for agriculture Michael] Heimer expects more hogs will move into neighborhoods.

For example, he said several homes will be constructed in what was formerly Camp Strake, a 2,000-acre property north of The Woodlands.

“When they start developing that, we’ll see a lot of wildlife displaced,” Heimer said.

In the meantime, he said it would help the extension office if county residents would report any hog sightings.

“A lot of this goes unrecorded,” he said. “Anything we can do to get information will help. It gives us a way to document what’s going on.”

We’re familiar with the feral hogs of Kingwood. Am I a bad person for admitting that the thought of feral hogs roaming the master-planned streets of Kingwood and The Woodlands makes me giggle? As for what the good people of The Woodlands can do about this menace, I recommend they start by downloading the Texas A&M feral hog app for helpful advice. Keeping the little buggers in line is everyone’s job.

Friedman for feral hogs

As the man once said, Why the hell not?

As meat prices rise, a candidate for agriculture commissioner is proposing beefing up the state’s program to harvest and market wild hog meat in a way he says will create jobs and revenue for Texas.

Kinky Friedman, a Democrat running for the statewide office, said feral hogs are a largely untapped industry that could be a lucrative endeavor for the state rather than a waste of life.

“If you are going to kill a bunch of feral hogs, let’s at least do it for a profit and business for the state,” he said. “To kill all these hogs and let them rot doesn’t make sense.”

Wild pigs are one of the biggest problems for many ranch and landowners in Texas, said Billy Higginbotham, professor and extension wildlife fishery specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The population in Texas has increased by about 20 percent each year because hogs have the “highest reproductive rate of any large mammal in the world,” he said. Some food banks and small grocers in the state and country sell the meat, which is described by the state’s Parks and Wildlife service as “tasty” and lean.

Land owners and hunters can trap and sell the live animals to about 100 buying stations in the state, which are licensed and regulated by the Texas Animal Health Commission, where they are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before the hogs are slaughtered and sold.

The stations sell the meat to processing plants, which sell the pork for human consumption across the country and in Europe and Asia, Higginbotham said.

“Texas is literally able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” he said, adding that 460,000 hogs in Texas were federally inspected, slaughtered and sold between 2004-2009.

The state, however, does not pull any taxes or revenue from the transactions of the buyback program, which is the only of its kind in the country.

Friedman, a songwriter and entertainer, said the program is a good start, but the state should become more involved and broaden the program and rake some of the profits.

I confess that I don’t know much about this program, so I can’t really evaluate Friedman’s idea. That said, the feral hog problem is statewide and well-known, and the steps we have undertaken so far to deal with it, even the more extreme ones, have had little effect. I don’t see how it could hurt to try to encourage more participation in hog control by making it financially more attractive for the state and for interested parties. Even if the effect on the hog population is minimal, as it will likely be, the need for food is real and the potential to do good is there. A little outside the box thinking here is welcome. Kudos to the Kinkster for bringing it up.

Radack finally gets to implement his feral hog plan

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.

The feral hogs of Kingwood

They’re everywhere.

Kingwood communities that are battling feral hogs could be in it for the long haul, experts say.

The huge, fearless cousins of domestic pigs have been roaming through the affluent northern suburb for at least a month, said Keith Crenshaw, urban biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

He’s talked on the phone with residents looking for solutions and has driven by their homes, seeing rooted-up lawns left by the foraging creatures.

Texas has the highest concentration of wild feral hogs in the United States, and in Kingwood, the community with the worst problem is Royal Shores, the area closest to Lake Houston, Crenshaw said.

Feral hogs are highly adaptable and suburban survival isn’t too hard for them, he said.

“If you put a sprinkler system in your front yard and run it regularly, you are creating a hog habitat,” Crenshaw said. “They want to eat grubs and bugs and all the stuff right below the soil surface.”

Hogs on the hunt know what’s there because they can smell it, he said.

“They will root it up and eat everything,” he said. “They have now demolished what a lot of people spend good money on to have a nice-looking yard.”

Boy, if that’s not a good argument for xeriscaping, I don’t know what is.

Trapping the hogs in a box or corral is the most straightforward way to address the problem, Crenshaw said.

It’s up to home owners, or groups, to hire a trapper and then figure out what to do with the hog after it’s caught, he said.

It can’t simply be released on someone else’s land or public land because it could have a disease that can be transmitted to domestic pigs, he said.

The only meat packer in the area that’s certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to process feral hogs is in Porter.

“You have to take it to them live and they have to run tests to make sure it doesn’t have wildlife diseases,” he said. “If they take it, they’re agreeing to have an animal on site for a month.”

That’s the Steve Radack solution to the problem. Not a bad idea, if the logistics can be worked out. As for me, I’m just glad I live in one of the few parts of the state these beasts haven’t taken over. Surrounding yourself with highways seems to be the only effective deterrent against them.

The hogs keep winning

Same old story.

More than two decades into Texas’ ever escalating war against feral hogs, the wild swine continue gaining ground while Texas and the state’s native wildlife, plants and ecosystems lose it.

Despite taking millions of casualties – an estimated 750,000-plus feral hogs have been killed each of the past few years in Texas – the non-native pigs have continued their economically and environmentally destructive march across the state, with an estimated 2.6 million of them spread across at least 240 of Texas’ 254 counties.

“It’s just getting worse and worse; no matter what we’ve tried, the hogs just overwhelm us,” said Stuart Marcus, manger of the 25,000-acre Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. “They certainly are having a negative impact on native wildlife and habitat – directly and indirectly.”

Texas holds, by some estimates, as many as 10 times the number of feral hogs it did barely three decades ago.

[…]

A research project by Rice and Texas A&M universities conducted in the Big Thicket of southeast Texas used fenced and unfenced plots of land to gauge impacts of feral hogs. The plots used by hogs saw plant diversity reduced, fewer forbs, fewer large-seed (mast producing) trees, loss of leaf-litter ground cover resulting in a reduction in the abundance of invertebrates and small vertebrates, and changes in soil chemistry that changed plant communities.

The research also indicated plots disturbed by feral hogs grew twice as many Chinese tallow trees as the hog-free areas. Tallow trees are one of the most problematic non-native, invasive plants threatening Texas, as the tallows grow in dense monocultures, shade out native trees and grasses, are of almost no value to wildlife, and are almost impossible to control.

Stuart Marcus witnesses this on the Trinity River refuge.

“I call feral hogs ‘walking tallow trees,’ ” he said. “They are just as bad as tallow trees, and wherever they root up the ground, tallow trees seem to sprout by the hundreds.”

Feral hogs’ rooting behavior causes severe damage to environmentally sensitive and hugely important areas along waterways, particularly in central, south and western Texas where such waterways are limited.

“They definitely impact plant communities and really do serious damage to riparian areas, especially the western half of the state,” Frels said.

[…]

For the past three years, research at the Kerr wildlife area has focused on sodium nitrite, a toxicant that has been used to great effect against feral hogs in Australia.

Sodium nitrite kills by disrupting blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the brain. Pigs are highly susceptible to sodium nitrite because, unlike humans and other mammals, they lack the ability to produce an enzyme that reverses the effects. A feral hog ingesting a lethal dose of sodium nitrite quickly becomes lethargic, then unconscious. Death occurs within 90 minutes.

Research indicates the poisoned pigs pose little or no threat to scavengers or predators.

Developing bait/sodium nitrite mixtures that feral hogs will eat and that deliver a lethal dose of the substance and a “delivery system” – a feeder – that feral hogs can access but can’t be used by deer, raccoons and other non-target wildlife are the focus of research at the Kerr.

“It’s showing some promise,” Frels said of sodium nitrite’s potential as another tool to use against feral hogs. “But there’s still a long way to go before it could become an option.”

If it does, it could help turn the tide in the battle against feral hogs. In Australia, use of sodium nitrite has reduced feral hog populations in large areas by as much as 89 percent.

That would be a game-changer, and we could sure use it. I just hope the hogs don’t develop an immunity to it, at least not for a long time. Good luck getting it developed.

We’re exporting feral hogs

You’re welcome, neighboring states.

Feral pigs have already taken over Texas and are expanding their numbers in other states, but federal and state land managers think they have a chance to tip the balance in New Mexico. They’re willing to bet $1 million in federal funds on a yearlong pilot project aimed at eradicating the pigs and using what they learn here to keep them from gaining a foothold elsewhere.

It marks the first time the U.S. Department of Agriculture has teamed up with a state to develop a comprehensive plan for getting rid of the pigs.

A small army of state and federal employees has been trained to stalk, trap and kill New Mexico’s feral pigs. Various techniques have been used by wildlife managers and landowners for decades in the fight against feral swine, but the New Mexico team is focusing on determining what combination works best in which circumstances and how effectively helicopters can be to track the pigs across vast landscapes.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve with this so we can prevent a lot of the damage that we know will be coming if we don’t do anything about it,” said USDA Wildlife Services state director Alan May. “Sport hunting pressure alone won’t be enough to stop a population from spreading.”

You can say that again.

In Mississippi, peanut farmers often wake to find uprooted plants. In Texas, where there are an estimated 2.6 million pigs, the animals have moved from destroying pastures and crops to tearing up suburban gardens.

Texans spend about $7 million a year on trying to control pigs and repair some of the damage, said Billy Higginbotham, a professor and wildlife specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center.

“We’re not like New Mexico, Nebraska or Kansas, for example, where we’re just beginning to get a few and can probably think in terms of eradication,” he said. “What we’re simply trying to do here is not even use the “e” word — eradication — but to think in terms of managing the damage.”

SciGuy reminds us how challenging that is.

In 2010, an estimated 750,000 pigs were harvested, or 29 percent of the population. That sounds harsh, but it’s really not.

The scientists estimate with such a harvest the feral hog population will still double every five years. Even a high harvest — 41 percent of the population, annually — will allow the wild pig population to actually grow by 12 percent a year.

An annual harvest rate of 66 percent is required to hold the feral hog population in check, the scientists believe.

That’s something like 1.8 million of the beasties a year, at current population levels. There aren’t enough helicopters in the state for that. Good luck controlling your hog invasion, New Mexico.

Hog killin’ update

Because I know you like to know about this sort of thing.

After a competition to kill feral hogs left more than 1,000 of the destructive animals dead in Hays and Caldwell counties, plans are emerging to further control the population.

Both counties participated in the state’s Hog Out County Grants Program, a competition among counties to kill the most feral hogs and to educate people about the hogs from October through December.

The 28 counties that participated last year, including Hays, Caldwell and Williamson, earned points for the number of hogs killed and the number of participants at educational workshops.

According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Texas is home to nearly 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest population nationwide, and one that’s growing. The Hog Out County Grants Program is one of two the department funds that is aimed at eliminating feral hogs, which damage property, crops and pastures.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that the economic damage cause by hogs statewide is $500 million annually. The funds the department will award as a result of the Hog Out program are to be used by counties to implement a plan to reduce their feral hog populations.

The county with the most points wins $20,000. The second- and third-place counties earn $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

It’s all just a drop in the bucket, really. As we heard before, killing 750,000 of these beasts a year would not be enough to cause a drop in their population. But what are you gonna do? And in case you were wondering, yes, they’re going to try to do something useful with all that meat. Good luck with that.

“Please don’t mow down the wildlife”

As we know, the new 85 MPH toll road is now open, and while it is largely free of traffic, there are other obstacles to watch out for.

“That is a known pig route,” said Caldwell County Precinct 1 Constable Victor “Smitty” Terrell, who heard one of the hog-vs.-vehicle crashes on his police radio Wednesday night.

Like Texas 130 has the highest speed limit, Texas claims the largest feral hog population in the U.S. — 2.6 million.

It is so problematic that the state agriculture department runs a feral hog abatement program, including a contest called the “Hog Out Challenge,” in which counties compete to take the most swine by killing them, or trapping, snaring or capturing them “for purposes of immediate slaughter,” the rules say.

Caldwell County is competing in the challenge.

It’s unclear if road kill counts. Lockhart police Capt. John Roescher spotted at least three dead hogs on the side of Texas 130 at U.S. 183 on Thursday morning.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the feral hog problem. It’s probably cheaper and less dangerous to shoot them from a helicopter than take them out with the family car, however. If you drive on SH 130 now, you will see road signs warning you of this hazard.

The SH 130 Concession Co. announced the sign plan Tuesday morning on its Facebook page. The signs will go up as soon as they can be made, said spokesman Chris Lippincott.

[…]

Lippincott said the company decided, based on early driving experiences, that the signs were needed.

While everyone knows to take caution behind the wheel, Lippincott said, “there’s nothing wrong with reminding them from time to time.”

Here’s the Facebook post. Wisecracks aside, I would not want to meet up with a 400 pound hog at 85 MPH. TM Daily Post has video of hogs crossing SH 130 at night. It’s just a matter of time before this causes a fatality. I hope it’s not too frequent an occurrence.

The hogs are winning

So many feral hogs. So much more needed to deal with them.

Texas upped the ante in its battle with feral hogs a year ago when it passed a “pork choppers” law that allows recreational shooters to blast wild pigs from low-flying helicopters.

The state doesn’t track the number of hogs killed by aerial gunners, but a new report from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service clearly shows the prolific pigs are winning the war.

As in all conflicts, there is money to be made.

Some helicopter companies say business is better than they ever imagined for shoots that cost from $1,500 to $2,000.

On the ground, a growing number of trappers, landowners and wholesalers are cashing in on all that free-roaming protein by selling trapped hogs to meat-processing plants.

Some skeptics doubt the effectiveness of the airborne assaults, but Dustin Johnson of Cedar Ridge Aviation in Knox City says the 130 or so shooters he has flown have taken out 3,000 to 4,000 pigs since Sept. 1, 2011, when the helicopter hog hunts were legalized.

“We whack ’em and stack ’em,” Johnson said. “We went to the Paris area in December and killed 600 in one weekend. The landowners were begging us to come back.”

But those numbers amount only to minor casualties in the hog war.

Consider that, in 2010, more than 753,000 feral hogs, or 29 percent of the estimated 2.6 million wild pigs in Texas, were eradicated by some means, according to the new report by AgriLife, which is part of the Texas A&M University system.

With that annual harvest rate, it will take only five years for the Texas feral hog population to double to 5.2 million, said Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife and fisheries specialist and one of the authors of the report.

“We estimate in Texas that you have to remove about 66 percent just to hold the population stable,” he said. “If we remove 750,000 pigs a year, we are still falling behind.”

The report is not available online. As we know, porkchopping has had some effect but not that much. There just aren’t any easy answers for this.

More porkchopping, please

Apparently, shooting feral hogs from a helicopter isn’t as popular a pastime as you might think.

“Number one, the cost is kind of limiting,” said Steve Lightfoot, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, explaining that interest has “leveled out.”

A helicopter shooting trip can cost from $300 to $1,000 per hour, sometimes with a minimum number of hours required.

“It’s kind of expensive, so it’s not really a common thing to do,” said Jim Barnhill, a broker in the El Campo area who arranges helicopter feral hog hunts. “You’ve got to have a pretty thick pocketbook.”

[…]

Feral hogs are also learning to avoid the choppers, just as they might run from the sound of a four-wheeler used on land for traditional hunting, Lightfoot said.

“The hogs have gotten smart. They kind of recognized what those rotor sounds mean, and they’ve headed for heavy cover,” he said.

Also, Barnhill said, the hogs are nocturnal, limiting hunting by helicopter to only a couple of hours in the early morning.

Funnily enough, I don’t recall any of these points being made while the porkchopper bill was under consideration. The debate could largely be summed up as “Yeee-haw!” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and every little bit helps when it comes to feral hogs, but clearly there’s more that will need to be done.

If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em

Texas Monthly proposes a way to deal with those bothersome invasive species.

Keep your invasive species sweet; you may have to eat them. Late last week StateImpact Texasput together a list of the “Top Ten Invasive Species in Texas.” But what’s the best way to trim back their numbers? Helping eliminate invasives by eating them is an idea that has received a fair amount of press in the past year. “Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” the Nature Conservancy’s Philip Kramer told Elisabeth Rosenthal of the the New York Times. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

Maybe a large part of the problem is branding. “While most invasive species are not commonly regarded as edible food, that is mostly a matter of marketing, experts say,” Rosenthal wrote. Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, was of that mind: “What these species need now is a better — sexier — profile, and more cooks who know how to use them,” she said.

“The whole outdoors is like a grocery store, if you know where to look,” Cecilia Nasti, the host of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s weekly radio series, “Passport to Texas” and KUT’s “Field and Feast,” told the TM Daily Post. When internal emails circulate through TPWD about the latest invasive species, Nasti said her first question is always ‘Is this something we can eat?’”

In that spirit, we’ve drawn up together our own subjective list, ranking five of Texas’s species by deliciousness and collecting recipes to help you prepare each.

Some of these critters, like the giant tiger shrimp, you may have already seen on your menu. Some, like the feral hog, a/k/a “wild boar”, don’t have a branding problem so much as they have a supply chain problem. There’s so dang many of them that mere hunting and trapping strategies are woefully inadequate. We allow people to shoot these things from helicopters with machine guns in order to try and control their population, for crying out loud. If there were an efficient way to harvest and butcher them, believe me it would be done. Anyway, there’s merit to what they suggest, though good luck to whoever has to come up with an appetizing name for nutria. I just figure that if someone could have come up with a way to make money off of this, they’d have done it by now.

Let the porkchopping begin!

Are you ready for some death from above?

“Pork choppers,” Texas’ newest weapon in the war on feral hogs, will take to the skies Thursday when it [became] legal for hunters to buy seats on hog-hunting helicopters and gun down as many pigs as they can put in their sights.

With more than 2 million feral hogs rooting around the Lone Star State, there will be plenty of targets for aerial gunners willing to pay $475 for an hour of heli-hunting.

Vertex Helicopters is already bringing home the bacon as a result of the measure passed by the Texas Legislature this year.

The Houston-based firm requires shooters to take a $350 hunting safety course before they can book a hunt, said President Mike Morgan, a former Army helicopter pilot.

And as far as I know, none of that money is going to the state. I had said before that we should look at this as a revenue opportunity, but the Lege wasn’t listening to me.

In 2010, 14,811 hogs were killed through the program statewide. Airborne gunners dispatched 17,743 hogs in 2009 and 18,578 in 2008, said Harmony Garcia, who handles the 150 or so active aerial permits for the parks and wildlife agency.

“People have been waiting for this. It’s going to be interesting,” she said.

Remember, that’s out of an estimated 2 million plus hogs. This may have an effect in some localities, but it’s far from a solution.

Even from 50 feet up in the air, shooting a 300-pound hog that is running 35 mph out of a helicopter that is going between 30 and 65 mph is no easy feat, Morgan said.

“Most people can’t hit the target. We’ve found that less than 15 percent of the rounds hit the target. It’s a huge eye-opener, actually it’s a punch in the gut, because these people are serious shooters,” he said.

[…]

Helicopter hunting is also risky, Morgan said.

“It’s incredibly dangerous; it’s probably the most dangerous method of hunting out there,” he said. “You’re shooting semiautomatic assault rifles out of a helicopter at altitudes of about 50 feet. There are some major risks here. We can mitigate some of the risk by training people properly.

“You’re going to have two types of hunters: cowboys and pros. The pros take things seriously; the cowboys don’t give a crap as long as they get to shoot something.

“Our goal is to make sure we don’t have a bunch of cowboys jumping in helicopters and going, ‘Yeehaw.'”

Just as a reminder, this is what it looks like. Something tells me there will be a lot of the latter regardless. Hey, it’s legal and it’s their money. If they fall out of the helicopter, it was all part of the adventure.

It’s pork-choppin’ time

At least one Texas industry is looking forward to better times.

New legislation aimed at reducing Texas’ massive feral hog population also is expected to put some sizzle in the state’s helicopter services sector and create a new breed of hunter-tourist.

The legislation, nicknamed the “pork chopper bill,” will allow hunters to pay landowners and helicopter companies to climb aboard a helicopter to shoot and kill feral hogs and coyotes.

In a pro-hunting state like Texas, it is expected to draw sizable interest, which could keep the copters flying more often than they did before.

Previously, landowners were prohibited from accepting payment from hunters to shoot the beasts from the air. The legislation has been signed by the governor and will take effect Sept. 1.

Helicopter companies in the state are gearing up to handle the new business.

“I’ve had people contact me from Alaska who want to come down to do it,” said Dustin Johnson, owner of Cedar Ridge Aviation in Knox City in North Texas. He plans to charge $600 an hour per person, but that hasn’t tempered interest.

It’s just too bad that the bill that enabled this didn’t create a revenue stream for the state in the process. We could have wiped out the expected deficit for the next biennium.

Death from above, Senate version

The Senate has approved the “pork chopper” bill, with some amendments.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said there are more than 2 million feral hogs across the state. They used to be mostly a problem for rural landowners, but now urban dwellers are dealing with the scourge. “We’re having these hogs come in and tear up backyards and endanger the lives of young children,” he said.

It’s already legal in Texas to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters. But it’s an expensive endeavor. Fraser said his bill would allow landowners to bring a revenue stream by selling seats on the helicopters to hunters who want to come help them exterminate the hogs on their property.

Fraser was the Senate sponsor of HB716, which passed by a 29-2 vote. It now goes back to the House, where it had passed in April for concurring or a conference committee. Feral hogs should consider themselves duly on notice.

UPDATE: And it’s on its way to the Governor.

Outdoors legislative update

This is about the time of year when Shannon Thompkins, the Chron’s outdoor sports writer, devotes a column to what’s going on in the Legislature with bills that are about outdoor activities. I always look for them because he writes about bills that I may not have heard about. Here’s this year’s effort, which not surprisingly spends some time on the feral hogs and helicopters issue. One other item caught my eye:

Texas law makes perpetrating fraud in a freshwater fishing tournament offering any kind of prize punishable by as much as a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. If the prize is worth $10,000 or more, it is a felony.

Saltwater fishing tournaments are not covered under the statute.

But twin pieces of legislation — HB 1806 by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and SB 897 by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy — would change the law to apply to all fishing tournaments and add altering the length or weight of a fish or entering a fish taken in violation of a regulation to the list of fraudulent actions.

Both bills easily cleared their respective committees, have little or no opposition, and appear very likely to pass.

Fishing fraud! Does Greg Abbott know about this? I sense a publicity opportunity for him, or at least a show to pitch for Animal Planet. In any event, it’s good to know the Lege is on the case. Read the column for more.

Death from above, feral hog edition

The Lege takes action on the feral hog problem with a bill that would allow more people to shoot them from helicopters.

The Texas House [Monday] gave preliminary approval to House Bill 716. The measure passed 137-9 with no debate.

[…]

Texas’ estimated one to four million feral hogs cause $400 million in damage a year in Texas, said the bill’s author, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville. They are in virtually every county in the state, according to the bill’s official analysis.

Miller said hogs are not just a rural problem: The animals are also moving into suburban areas. Call it “swine flight.” (Please note: This is not a reference to pigs flying.)

Currently, landowners are allowed to shoot hogs from choppers, but they have to supply the gunner and cannot sell the seat. Miller’s bill would allow the gunner’s seat to be sold.

I smell a revenue opportunity here. Unfortunately, HB716 doesn’t specify that the state get a cut of that action. Too bad. See the Chron story and the Trib for more, and see this YouTube video, helpfully left as a comment on this post, to see a guy in a helicopter attempting to shoot feral hogs. It’s harder than you think.

Feral hogs: Still a problem

I’ve always been glad to live in the city because of stuff like this, but maybe it’s not enough any more.

Arlington and Dallas are among cities along the Trinity River that also have reported problems with wild hogs that weigh several hundred pounds, [Ag Commissioner Todd] Staples said.

Wildlife officials say the hogs are now starting to plague urban areas because of changing habitats and prolific reproduction. Texas has up to 2 million of the hairy beasts, about half the nation’s population, and state officials say they cause about $400 million in damage each year.

Although not all feral hogs have tusks, for years the animals have been a menace in rural areas by shredding cornfields, eating calves and damaging fruit trees – even breaking through barbed-wire fences, said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall. They also wreck ecosystems by wallowing in riverbeds and streams.

“They can do more damage than a bulldozer,” Hall said.

Methods to stop the problem have failed, including a pig birth-control pill studied by a veterinarian and researcher. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering allowing hunters in helicopters to shoot wild hogs at a wildlife refuge in Central Texas, saying they keep destroying the habitat.

Just curious – how effective is shooting them from helicopters, anyway? Is it really possible to bag more of them than you would traditionally? Seems to me the noise from the copters would scare off any animals in the vicinity, but what do I know? Anybody have experience with this? Of course, if that’s not effective then it’s hard to say what would be. I’m glad it’s not my job to have to figure it out.

Maybe they should try abstinence-only

Birth control for feral hogs. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

There’s a saying that when a feral hog has six piglets, only eight are expected to survive.

That’s no joke in Texas, however, where the 400-pound beasts do an estimated $50 million in damage to crops and property each year. Texas has half the nation’s feral hogs, but they’re now found in about 38 other states, up from fewer than 20 states 15 years ago.

One Texas researcher had hoped to slow their rapid reproduction with a birth control pill, but that hasn’t worked out well.

Two compounds proved ineffective. One required a very exact dose to work, and the other wore off too soon, said Duane Kraemer, a Texas A&M University veterinarian and researcher.

There also are the problems of getting the hogs to take the drug, keeping it from other animals and ensuring humans who eat hog meat aren’t harmed.

And don’t even ask about the hog condom, or trying to teach them the rhythm method. Not a pretty sight, that’s all I can say.

OK, OK, it’s easy for a citified urban elitist like me to joke about this kind of thing, but feral hogs are a huge environmental and agricultural pest, and there’s not much we can do about them right now that’s helping. I wish Dr. Kraemer and his crew the best of luck in making progress on this problem.

Hog hell

Shannon Tompkins gives us an update on the feral hog situation.

Feral hogs seem to be everywhere. At least they are in Texas, where we are cursed with the nation’s largest population (an estimated 1.5-2 million animals and growing) of the amazingly destructive, prolific and adaptable non-native wild swine.

Yes, feral hogs are challenging to hunt and outstanding on the plate. But those are their only positive attributes. They cause more than $50 million a year in losses to Texas agricultural interests, what with their rooting and wallowing and appetites. They probably do that much or more damage to rural and suburban lawns and gardens and other property.

Feral hogs compete with native wildlife for food and space, even eating their neighbors. Biologists call feral swine “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning they’ll eat just about anything they can grab or root from the ground. They are tough on amphibians and reptiles — lizards, frogs, snakes and such — and will devastate turtle nests, as folks along the Atlantic Coast discovered when they found feral hogs plundering egg-laden nests of endangered sea turtles.

[…]

With [so many] negatives associated with feral hogs, its no wonder states that are not yet infested with the animals or have small
populations are taking drastic measures to prevent the pigs from establishing or spreading.

North Dakota is the latest state to pass a law making it illegal to import, transport or possess a feral swine; hunt or trap them; sponsor, promote or assist in hunting or trapping feral swine; or profit from the release, hunting or trapping of a feral hog.

A person convicted of violating those prohibitions faces a fine of as much as $5,000 per violation.

North Dakota’s ban on hunting, killing, transporting or releasing feral hogs or profiting in any way from those activities is meant to address the main way feral hogs are expanding their range. People are trapping, hauling and releasing feral hogs to establish populations that can be hunted, and from which money can be made.

Such releases are blamed for the much of the viral-like spread of feral hogs over the past two decades.

By removing economic incentives of establishing a feral hog population (landowners can’t legally charge hunters to hunt the animals; guides can’t charge to take people hog hunting) and even criminalizing possession of the animals, North Dakota hopes to prevent introduction of the destructive swine into their state.

Amazing how much destruction people can cause when they don’t care about the negative effects of their actions on others. Makes it a little easier to understand why we needed legislation to restrict carbon emissions, doesn’t it?

No hog hunting

Bummer. Remember the plan Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack floated to allow bowhunting of feral hogs in George Bush Park, both as pest control and boon for the local food banks? The Army Corps of Engineers, which had say-so on this matter since the park was federally created as a flood control measure, put the kibosh on it.

In a March 19 letter, Richard Long, the supervisory natural resource manager for the Corps’ Houston office, agreed that the park’s feral hog population is a major problem for the Corps, the county, park users and nearby homeowners. But he said a limited archery program probably is not the appropriate solution.

For one thing, he said, a hog that is wounded but not killed could become a serious threat to the hunters, other park users or the people who live near the park. And allowing certain people to hunt would give the appearance of preferential treatment while potentially leading some people to mistakenly believe the entire park is open for public hunting.

“This would create a major enforcement problem for all agencies concerned as well as have a detrimental impact on the wildlife resources of the project,” Long wrote.

Long suggested expanding the trapping program Radack has been operating for more than a decade, which currently removes about 300 to 400 hogs every year.

Ah, well, it was fun while it lasted. On the plus side, this should reduce the chances of Ted Nugent showing up unannounced for some weekend recreation. So perhaps expanding the trapping program is the best way to go.

Them’s good eatin’

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack has an idea.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack has a problem with hungry hogs. Houston has a problem with hungry people.

If Radack gets his way, hundreds of pounds of pork soon could be hitting the needy’s tables.

Radack plans to allow a few select bowhunters to begin targeting the thousands of feral pigs that live in George Bush Park and hopes to donate the meat to food banks, churches, homeless shelters or even needy individuals.

“If you could harness this, it could feed so many people it’s unbelievable,” Radack said.

[…]

Off-duty county employees have been allowed to trap hogs at the park for more than a decade, and they typically remove about 300 to 400 every year, [Precinct 3 special activities coordinator Mike] McMahan said. The trappers are responsible for removing the hogs and have been allowed to keep the meat.

But those efforts barely have made a dent in a population that swells so quickly that 50 sows could replace all the hogs that were harvested with just one litter each.

[…]

Most of the park’s hogs weigh between 50 and 150 pounds, McMahan said. That translates to about 40 to 120 pounds of steaks, roasts, ribs and ham per animal, said Midway Food Market owner Herman Meyer, who processes 700 to 800 wild hogs a year at an average cost of about $60.

Houston Food Bank spokeswoman Betsy Ballard said the organization would be delighted to receive that much meat. But food safety laws could make such a donation difficult. Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Doug McBride said food banks could not accept the meat unless the hogs were taken live to a processor with an on-site state or federal food safety inspector.

Hunters for the Hungry, a statewide wild game donation program, does not accept feral hogs because it is too difficult to find a processor who adheres to all the state rules, program coordinator Anitra Hendricks said.

“There’s just not any easy way or profitable way to get a group together to do this,” said Barbara Anderson, state director of the Texas Food Bank Network.

Radack said he will find a way to make the donations work if he has to line individuals up to pick up hogs they will butcher themselves.

“If people catch fish out of sewage-infested waters like Buffalo Bayou and eat them, and people eat out of garbage cans because they are hungry, it seems reasonable to me that there is a way to take lean meat of a feral hog out of the woods and put it on people’s tables so they can have a meal,” he said. “There should be a way to do that and I’m determined to find it.”

Sounds like perhaps a change to state law might be needed to make this practical. If so, Friday was the regular filing deadline for new bills, though one can still be submitted if it gets supermajority approval. Be that as it may, I admire Commissioner Radack’s spirit here, and I hope he succeeds in his quest.