How big is the feral pig problem in Florida? Big enough for at least one county to consider sending its sheriffs hog hunting. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough County officials have included $40,000 in their 2016 budget proposal to help control the county’s hog population. The plan is for the sheriff’s office—aided by the Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department—to hunt the pigs at night.
“If you don’t get the whole sounder out, they may come back,” said Ken Bradshaw, Lands Management coordinator.
Florida is one of many states where feral pigs have overstayed their welcome. In contrast with other states, however, the animals have a long history in the Sunshine State, and were originally introduced by the early European explorers who brought them over on ships. Over a period of four centuries, explorers and settlers helped propagate hogs in Florida and even occasionally traded the animals to Native Americans, who viewed the creatures as strange but valuable livestock. Many domestic hogs eventually escaped and formed a significant wild population.
As in other parts of North America, the pigs are destructive to native habitats, wildlife, and cause millions of dollars in damages to farms.
“The wild hog is often considered one of the more problematic wild animals in Florida, and there are different viewpoints. Some people like and value them…many do not,” stated the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in a presentation.
“Wild hogs are now found in every county in Florida and in at least 39 states and Canadian provinces, including most of the Southeast,” the department added. “Florida, second only to Texas, is estimated to have 500,000+ wild hogs in a relatively stable population, with 1 to 2 million in the southeastern U.S.”
Wild pigs are highly adaptable and are prolific breeders. They also tear up vulnerable wetlands and habitat for other species, can contaminate waterways, and outcompete native species. For Hillsborough County, enough is enough. Officials say that a pilot program is underway to equip and train the sheriff’s office in hunting pigs, and it will be finalized once the budget is passed sometime in September.
Critics pointed out that the county could also let residents hunt on county-owned land as well, but that is not something that officials are currently considering. The county said that the pigs will be hunted humanely and meat harvested from the hunt will go to local food banks. It is estimated that so far the pigs have damaged about 17,000 acres of county land, and are becoming a problem for roads and fire lanes.
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