Wild boars, feral swine – many call them feral hogs. But as lots of Texans know, they’re the source of much angst and misery. Feral hogs cause property loss of more than $1.5 billion nationwide, about a quarter of which is in Texas. And that may be a conservative estimate. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is stepping in with what it hopes is a solution.
One industry that’s cropped up as a result of the so many feral hogs is hunting hogs from a helicopter for sport.
“They sat in the gunner seat of this helicopter, that doesn’t have any doors, they lean out of the helicopter and shoot at these hogs as they sort of scurry in the fields below,” Uhler says.
While this may be an enjoyable pastime for Texans and tourists alike, it doesn’t solve the hog problem. “This is an industry that has built up around a destructive pest,” Uhler says.
Jackie Brister, a farmer Uhler spoke to in San Saba County, said he’s willing to do anything to get rid of the hogs.
“I don’t don’t know how many dollars a year damage hogs do, just to me,” Brister said. “But I know some of those fields are gonna be reduced maybe 50 percent in the yield, just from the hogs.”
Uhler said the hogs destroyed his farm’s wheat and pecan plants. They’ve even eaten the baby goats Brister ranches.
“They’re incredibly destructive,” Uhler says, “and so many of the economists that I talked to said, that they’re without a doubt the most invasive and destructive animal that we’ll ever see in our time.”
Now, the USDA is turning to chemical solutions to curb the feral hog population.
“The USDA actually has dedicated millions of dollars to trying to figure out what to do with these feral hogs,” Uhler says. “They recognize that it’s a problem.”
Several years ago, “a company out of Australia tried to basically sell poison for these feral hogs, and it didn’t work,” Uhler says. “There was worry that it was going to get into the watershed, there was worry that other animals were going to also eat the bait.”
So now, “they have specialists here in Texas trying to develop basically a poison. It’s called sodium nitrite, and it’s basically what’s used to cure bacon.
“What they’re doing is an irony not lost on the USDA, they’re basically feeding these pigs a ton of this sodium nitrite and so it’s curing them to death.”
Dr. Stephanie A. Shwiff, an economist at the USDA, says they’re hoping this solution will have less of an effect on the environment at large. “No one likes toxicants,” she says. “Producers don’t like toxicants, the general public doesn’t like toxicants, even the government doesn’t like toxicants. But all the other management options are too expensive on a large landscape scale. We’re out of options.”
Brister said, if the sodium nitrite becomes available, he’d be first in line to purchase it.
“It won’t cost as much as losing several thousand dollars yield in your production,” he says. “I guarantee you that.”
Marketplace will air another report on the problem of feral hogs in Texas, later this week.
Written by Rachel Taube.