AUSTIN — Counties are posting and increasing bounties on feral hogs as they grub their way through fields, gardens, even lawns, pressing their search for food closer to urban areas and carrying disease and parasites with them.
Hays and Caldwell counties in Central Texas are offering a $5 bounty for each member of the non-native invasive species bagged by hunters, up $2 from last year, the Austin American-Statesman reported in its Saturday edition. Bastrop County is offering a $5 bounty for the first time.
Texas has the nation’s largest feral hog population, with nearly 2.6 million pigs counted in June. Experts blame the animals for about $500 million in statewide damage, including $52 million a year to agriculture and hundreds of millions in torn-up lawns, gardens, golf courses and buried cables and Internet lines.
“There is nothing more destructive that affects more things than drought and hogs,” R.A. “Bubba” Ortiz, a professional hog hunter and trapper, told the American-Statesman.
The hogs also cause environmental damage. “They cause a lot of damage and contamination to water sources,” said Nick Dornak, coordinator with the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership, a group concerned with water-quality issues.
And they are such prolific breeders that their population continues to build by about 20 percent annually, despite hunters taking about 750,000 from the population each year. So if reducing their numbers is an exercise in futility, the best that can be hoped for is to clear areas through maintenance hunts, Ortiz said.
But the beasts are hard to catch. Feral hogs are muscular and tough, capable of running several hundred yards after being shot. They are among this continent’s most intelligent wild animals and appear to have determined how traps work and warned other hogs, trappers said.
State and federal experts studied the possibility of poisoning the animals with treated baits, but they have not found the right chemical.
“The thing about using a toxicant, it has to be inexpensive, it has to be a humane, quick death, it has to have little to no impact on nontargets,” including native animals and humans. “That’s pretty dang hard,” said Matt Reidy, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
That leaves the emphasis on hunting, and the counties are funding bounty programs from private donations and grants from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Hunters can collect the money by bringing live hogs to a certified hog station or by bringing their tails to designated feed stores.