TREASURE COAST--Wild hogs are going hog wild along the Treasure Coast and throughout the country, more than doubling in population and range in the past 20 years.
Two decades ago, between 500,000 and 2 million wild pigs roamed the United States, according to Jack Mayer, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C., and a national expert on the problem. Now the population numbers between 2 million and 6 million. In 1982, feral pigs were documented in 17 states. Today, they’re found in 44, with an estimated 1 million wild hogs in Florida.
“I’ve found them out on Rocky Point in Stuart,” said John Gruber, co-owner of All American Pest Management in rural St. Lucie County and a licensed hog trapper, “and I’ve found them off St. James Drive and in PGA Village (both in western Port St. Lucie). Anywhere you’ve got a couple of acres of wooded land, you can have hogs. They’ve adapted to live in the suburbs.”
DAMAGE FAST, SUBSTANTIAL
In February 2007, a family of wild hogs — a mother and seven piglets — suspected of foraging and tearing up landscaping at Port St. Lucie City Hall and nearby residences and businesses, were humanely nabbed by a trapper and taken to state land in Okeechobee County for release.
Wildlife experts say the hogs, which can weigh as much as 750 pounds, are increasingly running roughshod in rural areas, suburbs and even a few cities, digging up cemeteries, gardens and lawns.
“They root up the turf on the golf course and in lawns,” said Donald Coon, president of the Crane Creek Homeowners Association in Palm City, “apparently to get to grubs in the soil. They love to get into some soft soil and toss it around.”
“They run in packs,” Gruber said, “and they can do a lot of damage in quick order. When they’re done with a lawn, it looks like heavy machinery has been there.”
Doug Bournique of Vero Beach, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, said citrus growers “have been dealing with hogs for years and years. As the urban populations moves west, they’re getting to know hogs better now, too.”
Bournique said rooting hogs don’t damage trees, “but they rip up irrigation systems, the plastic tubes.”
Coon said he hadn’t heard of any incidents in which people or pets were threatened by packs of pigs. Gruber said the pigs could do some damage if they attacked.
“They’re lean, and they’re mean,” Gruber said. “They’re nothing to play with.”
Even though more cities and states are confronting the spread of the pigs, no national strategy or program exists to corral what is a cross-border problem. Without federal intervention and enforcement of existing laws that limit transporting animals, the battle against the feral pigs — which each year cause an estimated $800 million in property and crop damage, and 27,000 auto collisions — could very well be lost, Mayer and others say.
WILD PIGS CARRY DISEASE
First introduced to the continent by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539, pigs commonly accompanied settlers to the New World, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eurasian wild boar were introduced into the American wilderness beginning in about 1900.
Today’s wild pig population is largely a combination of domestic pigs, Eurasian wild boar — or some blend of the two.
“They’re very hardy, they’ll eat almost anything, and they don’t have any natural predators,” Gruber said. “Every time they have a litter, that’s eight or nine more pigs.”
The pigs also are carriers for disease — although not swine flu — and the pork industry has millions of dollars at stake if their livestock become infected. Seth Swafford, who leads the U.S. Agriculture Department’s feral pig tracking efforts, says the animals mostly carry diseases that are transmitted to other pigs, including domestic animals.
Swafford said the feral swine can transmit some diseases to humans, as well. One of these diseases, Brucella suis, infected three people in 2008, all of whom were reported to have been hunting wild pigs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns hog hunters to wear gloves and wash thoroughly when butchering hogs because of the danger of contracting swine brucellosis.
There’s no national policy on hunting pigs, Mayer said. Instead, rules for killing wild pigs are governed by state hunting laws. In Florida, wild hogs may be hunted year-round with no bag limit except in wildlife management areas, where hunting is allowed only during specific seasons and size and numbers might be limited.
Texas, an epicenter of feral swine with about 3 million wild hogs, has been mulling a law change to allow the public to hunt pigs from aircraft.
Reported by: ISAAC WOLF and JASON BARTZ Scripps Howard News Service
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers staff writer Tyler Treadway contributed to this report.
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