Texplainer: How Real Is the Feral Hog Menace?

Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) works the floor prior to debate on HB15 on March 2, 2011
Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) works the floor prior to debate on HB15 on March 2, 2011

Hey, Texplainer: How much damage do feral hogs do, and do we really need to be shooting them from helicopters?

A lot, and every little bit helps, wildlife specialists suggest.

Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, is carrying HB 716, which removes restrictions on the recreational hunting of feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters and was passed Monday afternoon by a vote of 137-9. Last session, a similar bill garnered a good deal of attention, probably due to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's proclivity for similar practices. This time around, it has been flying (pun intended) more under the radar.

But feral hogs are no small problem. "Feral hogs in Texas are responsible for approximately $400 million in direct damage to Texas every year," the bill analysis states. "There are an estimated two million feral hogs in Texas and feral hogs are found in nearly every county of the state."

For the first time, those numbers can be checked with a degree of confidence. Roel Lopez, associate director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, recently used a geographic information system to create a population model for the state's feral hog population. He found the range was between 1.9 million and 3.4 million. And the numbers are growing. His study found it would take roughly five years for the feral hog population to double — meaning 60 to 70 percent of the feral hog population will need to be removed annually in order to keep the numbers stable. 

So, should they be hunted from helicopters? Their populations are already controlled to some extent by trained aerial shooters. And Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife specialist at the Texas AgriLife Extension, said it's unlikely recreational shooters will be as efficient or as effective as trained shooters. About a dozen studies nationally have evaluated the effectiveness of recreational hunting as a means of population control, Higginbotham said. The studies have shown that it can reduce wildlife populations by a range of 8 to 50 percent, with an average of 24 percent.  

But at this point, Higginbotham said, the trained shooters may need all the help they can get. "We can suppress the damage, we can manage the populations, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to eradicate the feral hogs," he said. If the hogs can be better managed, "we can preemptively save millions upon millions of dollars."

Bottom line: Feral hogs are a fast-growing problem. Does that mean more helicopters should get involved? We'll leave that to the legislators.

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