Texas has wild pigs, and lots of them. Various estimates put the pig population in Texas at between 1.5 and 2 million, and they cause an estimated $50 million in damage per year to crops, farms, and wildlife. There has been a stir over the last few weeks after the Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced the approval of Kaput, a warfarin based poison, for feral hog control. After extensive testing since 2008, with the endorsement of the Texas A & M Agrilife Extension Service, and after the federal Environmental Protection Agency approved the poison, Texas went forward with the rule change. The rule includes a license for use of the poison, a restriction even the EPA did not impose, as a way to control access to the poison and limit irresponsible use.
The reaction from several public angles has been intense. On the one hand are the environmental groups who think it’s just plain mean to poison the poor little piggies. Stephanie Bell, an animal-cruelty director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement that feral hogs “should not be sentenced to death simply for trying to forage and feed their own families.” Hunting groups on the other hand are concerned about conservation of feral pigs as a resource. While they certainly cause damage, they are also a source of income for many ranchers and a source of food and sport for many hunters. Over 18,000 people have signed an online petition put forward by the Texas Hog Hunters Association speaking out against the use of the poison, citing fears of potential damage to other wildlife and possible human consequences.
Wild pigs pose a difficult problem, with no easy solution. They certainly cause damage to farms and ranches, which negatively impacts the Texas economy. They also bring economic benefit to those same farms, when hog hunts are sold or hunting rights are leased. They carry diseases that can infect livestock, including brucellosis and pseudorabies. They’re also safe to eat, and can be prepared into just about any dish that can be made from commercially produced pork. Well prepared, you can’t tell the difference between wild pork and pork from the store.
Taylor Collins, founder of an Austin based company that specializes in wild meat products, suggested that instead of poisoning feral hogs, Texans should just eat them. If you look at it that way, the problem becomes that Texas has too much free bacon! Now that’s a good way to look at it.
If hunting and eating the pigs is to be a part of the solution, several things are worth considering. For many land owners, pigs are a problem. Equally problematic for the landowners are hunters who leave open gates, leave trash, damage or steal farm equipment, or leave truck ruts through the pasture. A recent discussion on Texas Bowhunter Forums covered these issues well. As in many social situations, the actions of a few people of questionable judgment have potentially ruined a good thing. Also worth considering is the rate of hog reproduction vs. the kill rate of the typical recreational hunter. Many of us like to eat a few pigs a year, but each sow can have up to two litters per year of four to twelve pigs each. The math doesn’t add up for recreational hunting to make a measureable impact.
It’s too soon to tell if Sid’s poison will be a part of the hog control solution in Texas. For the mean time, the rule has been delayed by a temporary injunction until at least March 30. As for me, I’d like to see Texas values and Texas culture take care of the problem. Help your neighbors and work together. Respect the rights and property of landowners who grant you access. Eat what you kill. If you need to kill more than you can eat, then find a friend to share with. Wild pigs weren’t a problem on the frontier, they were a resource. They are still a resource that can be used for good, not just a destructive nuisance. Even if we have to deal with a pig problem, let’s celebrate Texas values with each other, over a pit of BBQ pork or a slab of fresh bacon.