Wild hogs mangling fields in Texas

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BETSY BLANEY Associated Press LUBBOCK, Texas – Wild hogs are mangling fields and pastures with their razor-sharp tusks. They’re wrecking ecosystems by wallowing in streambeds. They’re even killing and eating smaller animals. In short, the nation’s largest feral hog population is making a mess of Texas.

Farmers and ranchers – who sustain an estimated $52 million annually in damage at the snouts of the rapidly growing wild hog population – are asking the Legislature and hunters for help controlling the estimated 2 million animals.

“Bring an AK-47, because that’s what you’ll need,” Canton cattle rancher Don Metch said.
The nocturnal, omnivorous hogs can grow to 400 pounds and have four fierce-looking tusks that can extend five inches from their top and bottom jaws. They’re more bristly and muscular than domestic pigs, and they can be ill-tempered when cornered.

Feral hogs are found in 230 of the state’s 254 counties, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates. Nationwide, hogs number 4 million in 42 states, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. They’re spreading into states where they haven’t been seen before, such as Illinois and Kansas, said Eric Hellgren, a professor of wildlife ecology at Oklahoma State University.

“They’re going to get everywhere,” he said.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has asked legislators for $500,000 to start a two-year pilot program to study the hogs in hopes of controlling them. In the meantime, Texas relies on its year-round hunting season. Still, the hogs are causing all sorts of damage in the nation’s No. 2 agriculture state. They uproot sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, rice and other crops. So keen are their snouts that hogs can pull up plants one by one. But they’re typically not so tidy and just tear up pastures. Sweet potato farmers have reported dozens of acres destroyed in one night. Beef producers say the hogs knock down fences and tear holes in pasture to get to grass roots and grub worms. They also kill goats, sheep and other small livestock.

“When I mowed that pasture, it was like riding a rodeo horse,” said Metch, the Canton cattle rancher. “They’re nasty, and they got big appetites, and they’re multiplying.”

The hogs are descendants of domestic pigs brought to America in the 1600s by French and Spanish explorers, and of Eurasian boars brought for hunting in the early 1900s. They reproduce so rapidly that there’s a joke among wildlife officials: When a sow has six piglets, you can expect eight to survive. Sows can have two litters a year, and their female offspring can get pregnant as early as six months.

“It all paints a picture of very rapid expansion,” said Billy Higginbotham, a Texas Cooperative Extension wildlife and fishery specialist.

Two years ago in East Texas, the damage was so bad that Van Zandt County officials offered a $7 bounty for a matched set of hogs ears. The program ended in 2004 after residents cashed in on more than 2,000 hogs. But wildlife officials hope hunters keep on hunting – and even expand their efforts. “What we need is more processing plants,” said Brian Cummins, an extension agent in Van Zandt County. “And a good sausage recipe.”


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