Texas has by far the nation’s largest population of feral pigs, and the ongoing battle to eradicate them is one that the state is losing. The Lone Star State is estimated to contain nearly half of all feral hogs in the United States, roughly 2.6 million. According to the Houston Chronicle, the swine have been carving a destructive path across 240 of Texas’ 254 counties. Despite killing over 700,000 of the animals every year, wildlife officials admit they are in a tough predicament.

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

The state’s hunters and trappers are doing their part to stem the tide. With almost no harvest restrictions, hog hunting has become a valued tradition in Texas and few other states can boast such a varied collection of pig recipes. From wild pig chili to mesquite-roasted pork, hog hunting can be a rewarding endeavor. This why every year hunters take an estimated 600,000 hogs and trappers account for another 70,000. Another 50,000 are killed by state wildlife services and private hog hunting companies. Still, it is not enough to halt the pigs’ growing population.

“The first year this agency began removing feral hogs was 1982, they took 86 pigs that year,” said Michael Bodenchuk, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch in Texas. “In 2011, we removed 24,746. That pretty much tells you how the problem has grown.”

In 2010 over 754,000 pigs were taken, but the number amounted to little more than 29 percent of the population. A Texas A&M University study found that in order to halt the spread of the invasive species, nearly 66 percent of the state’s feral hog population would have to be culled every year. The Houston Chronicle reports that this estimate is now an even 70 percent.

“Right now we’re not even taking half that number,” Bodenchuk said.

The very traits that make the pigs so adaptable in the wild are also the ones that draw the ire of Texan farmers and conservationists. Feral hogs eat whatever they can find, including roots, bird eggs, turtles, and crops. They have an exceptional taste for corn, rice, soybeans, and sweet fruits like watermelon. Crops in an area that hogs have targeted that the animals do not eat are often trampled–every year feral hogs cause $50 million in damage to the state’s agriculture. It has led farmers to turn to private firms that hunt and kill the hogs, but such measures are only a drop in the pond.

“There has been some success with reducing feral hog populations in fairly small areas,” said Donnie Frels, manager of the Kerr Wildlife Management Area. “But so far, we haven’t come up with any control mechanism that works for a long period of time over a large area.”

The hogs also compete with livestock and game animals for food, as well as posing a significant threat to the environment. Not only are the animals destructive but they also seem to encourage the growth of the equally invasive tallow trees. Another research study by Texas A&M found that tallow trees sprouted up wherever the pigs were because their rivals were eliminated by the hogs.

Researchers working at Kerr do have a plan to eradicate the wild swine, and it is one that has worked effectively elsewhere in the world. It is a poison called sodium nitrite and it is extremely toxic to hogs. The poison kills hogs by disabling their ability to pump blood to the brain. Luckily, humans and most other mammals have a built-in defense against the toxin that renders it harmless. Hogs killed by the poison should also be safe for scavengers to eat. When sodium nitrite was used in Australia, it helped to reduce pig populations by as much as 89 percent.

“It’s showing some promise,” Frels said. “But there’s still a long way to go before it could become an option.”

A sodium nitrite management program is currently in development but is restricted by federal regulations and the need for further testing.

You can read more on hog hunting or trapping tips here at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s site.

Image courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

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8 thoughts on “Texas Losing Ground in Fight Against Feral Hogs

  1. Wish the usually over zealous and SENSATIONALIST media would leave this topic alone! Next thing you know some state or federal agency will manage to SCREW THINGS UP so that feral hog populations will drop so low that it affects hunters. Leave them alone, let hunters work on the populations, open private and public lands more to hunting and trapping of feral pigs. Organize hunters, the public, state and gov’t agencies(TDA, TPWD, USFWS and others), and private land owners to manage the situation (note I did not say PROBLEM, as many Texans see this as an opportunity!). Private land owners are currently profitting from feral hog populations, don’t mess this up for them. If crops are being destroyed, the land owner should look for a responsible group of hunters to help harvest the pigs, and spread some good will.

  2. This is a case study of federalism v. statism, and wouldn’t you know it, the great state of Texas is leading the way in the paradigm shift we all need. First off, I, too, am tired of hearing about this issue. Like South Texan said (and is absolutely correct), this “problem” is a source of income for land owners in Texas. As such, they need to deal with it privately. If it is in the land owner’s best interest to eradicate, great. If not, its the land owner who reaps the repercussions the feral hogs cause. Due to nearly all of the land being owned by private individuals in Texas, this isn’t a public problem and therefore Texas officials, journalists, conservationists, et al, need to stop seeing problems through the lens of the “collective solutions” and start looking at this as private, local matter.

  3. Texas is all private land ! Landowners will complain about the pigs damage but won’t give you property access or let you take a shot at one for no less than $100m a day ! I am a disabled vet, 75yrs old and would love to have a chance to hunt pigs, just can’t afford it. So, don’t complain about pigs on your property when you consider it a cash crop..

    1. I agree….would love to come help out and shoot some pigs…I love pork. But as long as the land owners wont allow the average hunter come help them out…and keep catering to the rich hunters who will pay the “trespass fee”…they will continue to have a hog problem. Too bad…im sure that we, the average joe blow hunter, could eradicate their problem…maybe some day they will figure that out…till then? screw em…they created the mess…its theirs to deal with.

  4. Not sure what point the lady and South Texan are trying to make.
    It was just a few years ago that we were having a problem with mountain lions. New Mexico came up with a PHD of some sort (and I wish I had saved that article from the Albuquerque Journal) who made this comment; “Do you need so many Cattle Guards in southeastern New Mexico? Can’t ranchers watch their own cattle at night? This would save millions each year in government spending!” Wo Big Fella….

  5. At $315.00 for a non-resident hunting license, don’t count on many hunters rushing there to help Texas out with their pig problem.

  6. Has the Texas Fish & game considered doing a way with huntings license for pigs?
    If these private landowners want help controlling hogs they should open some of their lands for public hunting. Griz314@aol.com

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