Texas ranchers appealed to the state government in early March for more options to fight feral hog populations, as the pests continue to cause destruction statewide and locally.
Ag industry members have taken a variety of approaches to controlling the feral hog population, but no one is denying they create many problems. Feral hogs are responsible for an estimated $230 million in annual losses in the state, according to the Texas Farm Bureau.
“They commonly can cause crop destruction, in my experience they are partial to corn,” AgriLife Extension Agent Kate Crumley said. “They will cause general property destruction, the rooting behavior can tear up pastures and roads as well.”
Texas ranchers spoke to the state Senate Committee during a March hearing about the damage caused by feral hogs, some in favor of the use of poisonous baits. A 2017 budget rider currently prevents specific toxicants from being used on the feral hog population.
“Toxicant baits like warfarin are a viable next step and effective tool landowners should have the option to use,” according to a TFB article.
When it comes to controlling pests, having multiple avenues of attack is the most effective strategy, according to Crumley.
“A toxicant could certainly have a place as a method of control, but the application restrictions placed on a pesticide like that would likely present their own challenges for use, not to mention the possible cost of application,” Crumley said.
One way locals have tackled the feral hog problem is through aerial helicopter hunts.
Kurt Ilse of El Campo owns Silver Star Helicopters and takes locals up about twice weekly to hunt the feral hogs. Hogs aren’t as prevalent as when he started his business almost two decades ago, Ilse said, but the animals can still be very destructive for landowners.
In Wharton County, feral hogs can be a big issue for corn, rice and other crop producers.
“In the rice fields, they damage the levies where (the farmers) can’t control their water in the field,” Ilse said.
Beyond crops, feral hogs can damage fences, pastures and yards and harm livestock or small wildlife living in the area. The animals also can degrade the quality of water sources by introducing bacteria.
Even helicopter hunts have their limits when it comes to controlling the feral hog population.
“It’s hard to control them when there’s certain places with the helicopter we can’t go,” Ilse said. “Periodically, we’ll find a landowner that doesn’t want someone hunting on their property. So they just stay there and keep reproducing.”
Feral hogs are estimated to cost $1.5 billion in damages and control costs annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“For the state as a whole, they are getting worse and their numbers are increasing, and that is probably reflected in the county as well,” Crumley said.