By CRISTIN REECE
PALESTINE — They're baaaaaaaaaack!
Palestine property owner Clauis Lamb stepped out onto his front porch one morning last week and what he saw was nearly enough to make him spit. Feral hogs had destroyed a good 75 percent of his front yard, which fronts Texas 19 South.
“We had this problem a couple years back,” he recalled. “But it didn't seem near as bad as this, and they didn't come so close to the house that time. That was brand new St. Augustine grass, too! That's a lot of money. I got plenty of land back behind the house — I don't know why they can't go back there.”
Teresa Warner, Lamb's longtime family friend and caregiver, added, “We're just disgusted and discouraged that this happened again. It's so bad — how are we supposed to mow that now?”
The website, www.feralhogs.tamu.edu, reports “a 2004 survey conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service placed annual damage to agriculture in Texas alone at $52 million with an additional $7 million spent by landowners to attempt to control the pigs and/or correct the damage. This is indeed a very conservative estimate. Other researchers suggest that damage per pig per year averages $200– but the problem there is that the assumption is made that a 40 pound pig causes as much damage as a 300 pound pig, which is unlikely. The total pig population in Texas was an estimated 2.6 million in 2011.”
Lamb, a local leatherworker, joked about just laying Astroturf this time around, just to keep his yard looking nice.
“They're just a huge nuisance,” he lamented. “I just hope nobody hits them with their car.”
Anderson County AgriLife Extension Agent Truman Lamb (no relation) said he empathizes with Clauis Lamb's plight and that he's not alone.
“It was really bad a couple years ago, but then it kind of tapered off,” agent Lamb said. “Now though, it is getting more prevalent than ever before — I've received numerous calls concerning feral hogs from home owners located inside the city limits lately.”
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website, today's feral hogs can be traced back to old world European domesticated hogs, brought to America with the early Spanish explorers and colonists.
“Feral hogs are (descended from) domestic hogs that either escaped or were released for hunting purposes,” the site states. “With each generation, the hog’s domestic characteristics diminish and they develop the traits needed for survival in the wild.”
These days, TPWD officials have feral hogs listed on the state's Nuisance Animal list and have classified them as 'unprotected, exotic, non-game animals,' so they can be hunted “by any means or methods at any time of year. There are no seasons or bag limits, however a hunting license and landowner permission are required to hunt them,” the TPWD website states.
Hunting, trapping and snaring are currently the best ways to control feral hog populations, but those avenues might not work as well for some people as others. Agent Lamb reminds residents the city of Palestine has an ordinance against using firearms inside the city limits.
“Trapping is a viable method of population control,” Agent Lamb said. “The problem we're seeing now though, is many of these hogs are becoming trap savvy, making it harder to catch them.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Specialist Billy Higginbotham said researchers are currently developing contraceptive methods and potential toxicants to help thin the pests' population but those methods aren't going to be marketed until the EPA allows it.
“We have a known toxicant that works very well — sodium nitrite,” Higginbotham said. “They're working on coming up with a delivery system that keeps it pig specific.”
Sodium nitrite is a federally approved meat preservative that is toxic to mammals in large quantities.
“The devil's in the dose,” Higginbotham said. “We've got to find a way to deliver it to wild pigs without upsetting other species.”