COUNTY SETS SIGHTS ON WILD PIG POPULATION IN EAST COUNTY

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Update July 30, 2014: By a 5-0 vote,  Supervisors adopted the feral pig eradication plan to trap and shoot wild pigs across our region.

By Miriam Raftery

Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

July 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)--They wallow in waterways and root up sensitive habitat.  They breed prolifically—and they eat almost anything—from acorns to small animals—even goats with horns!  Those portly porkers – feral pigs in East County’s backcountry—can weigh up to 250 pounds. The largest wild pig caught anywhere--a gargantuan specimen dubbed "Hogzilla," tipped the scales at over 800 pounds.

Feral pigs are descendants of domestic pigs run wild and European boars brought over by Spaniards in the 1700s. Locally, San Diego's pig population has been around since only around 2006.  We don't know how they got here. One rumor is that  hunters released a few pigs as game animals. Another theory is that the pigs migrated in from elsewhere in California or Mexico. However they came, they've found fertile ground locally, where the number of wild pigs is now estimated at over a thousand. 

Hunting wild pigs is legal in California on private property and tribal lands – though not in our region's parks, preserves, or wilderness areas.  But bringing home the bacon isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Despite the proliferation of plump pigs in areas such as near El Capitan Reservoir and Lake Morena, very few have shot by hunters, based on the low number of tags turned into the state as required when a feral pig is shot.  That’s because the pigs prefer mostly rugged terrain, where it’s not easy to track them down—let alone haul a hefty carcass out for several miles through largely roadless regions.

If nothing is done, these prolific pigs could someday wallow their way into areas such as Lake Cuyamaca and the lower San Diego River, polluting waterways and threatening native species. Already, their taste for acorns is hindering the regrowth of oak trees after the fires.  Feral pigs also carry diseases which can be transmitted to humans and to livestock. And they can uproot Native American artifacts as well.

Pontentially, those sharped-tusked porkers could also pose hazards to hikers and bikers along our backcountry trails.  One bewildered bicyclist in the Campo area  has already been treed by a herd of rampaging wild pigs, which proceeded to stomp and mangle his bicycle. Fortunately, the cyclist emerged safe and ungored. 

So what’s the solution to the local pig problem?

Relocating them isn’t an option, since no place wants to take them.  Efforts to frighten  pigs off hasn’t worked either.  Apparently, these feral pigs are fearless.  Poisons could harm other wildlife and are not considered humane.

So after considerable studies, county officials are poised to approve a plan.  The studies found that the best way to eliminate San Diego’s wild pigs, or at least reduce their population, is to bring in marksmen  from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to shoot the pigs where they’re encroaching on state parks.  In some cases, gunning down pigs from helicopters may occur, along with use of traps.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, had originally raised concerns over humane treatment of the pigs, though the measure passed by Supervisors drew no testimony in opposition, a spokesman for Supervisor Jacob's office indicated. 

Wildlife Services has drawn criticism for some of its other actions in our region, after a Voice of San Diego investigation revealed high numbers of native wildlife killed, sometimes without explanation.  But the pigs aren’t native species – and they are chowing down on food sources that some native animals and  birds rely on to survive. So even many conservationists agree with the goal of eradicating wild pigs from our region –though some experts have voiced doubts over whether they can ever be truly eliminated – since even a handful of boars and sows secluded in the wilderness can produce a new generation of piglets to repopulate the backcountry.

So what happens to all that pork loin on the hoof hunted down by federal marksmen on our public lands?   Wherever possible, the meat will be donated to local charities, if the pigs are dispatched in accessible areas.  That could be good news for hungry San Diegans in need—or charitable groups eager to host an impromptu pig roast.

There is one other beneficiary of this proliferation of feral porkers across our state.  One study found that in some areas where pigs are plentiful, they now comprise up to 38% of the diet for California’s mountain lions.

The lions normal native diet consists mainly of deer, but now it seems they’ve developed a taste for pork as well as venison.

To learn more about San Diego County’s plentiful pig population, visit the San Diego Natural History Museum’s website on this subject at www.SDFeralPigs.org

Comments

pigs

To answer an earlier poster, the pigs were released by the Barona Indians so they could "sport hunt" them and make revenue. They were allowed to run wherever and quickly got out of control and now a nuisance in the county. I again ask WHY the Barona tribe is not being held responsible in the cost of cleaning up their mess that THEY created?

PIG-OUT

I can see both sides. But in the end I opt for citizen hunters. That said, my experience has been that most civilians who "hunt" don't have the skill or patience. So continue to charge the existing fees, but use part of those fees to teach a required pig hunt class. Include the detailed report -- especially the maps showing where the pigs have been seen in SD County. If a hunter can show past pig hunting success, waive the class. I think it's going to be the "pro" option, though. If so, instead of extensive and expensive use of helicopters, use video-equipped remote-controlled aerial vehicles, to spot and even 'herd' pigs. I know Hawaii has a serious feral pig problem, and their terrain and vegetation present a far bigger challenge to hunters, Yet the public is included in eradication efforts. Did anyone ask them, before re-inventing the wheel?

Wild Pigs on USFS Land

The USFS allows hunting of the wild pigs at selected locations within the Cleveland National Forest. Check the following link for more info. http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/cleveland/home/?cid=stelprdb5304654&width=full

PIG-OUT

I can see both sides. But in the end I opt for citizen hunters. That said, my experience has been that most civilians who "hunt" don't have the skill or patience. So CONTINUE charge the existing fees, but also require successful training on pig hunting. Include the detailed report -- especially the maps showing where the pigs have been seen in SD County. If a hunter can show past pig hunting success, waive the class. I think it's going to be the "pro" option, though. If so, instead of extensive and expensive use of helicopters, use video-equipped remote-controlled aerial vehicles, to spot and even 'herd' pigs. I know Hawaii has a serious feral pig problem, and their terrain and vegetation present a far bigger challenge to hunters, Yet the public is included in erradication efforts. Did anyone ask them, before re-inventing the wheel?

DogPile

Only in California can you have a ban on shooting on any county land and at the same time try to pass an ordinance to allow it only for officials to kill pigs. Yet at the same time could make a HUGE amount of money allowing lawful hunting of them that would not only save 10's of thousands but would actually control the population better and at the same time bring 10's of thousand of dollars into the county coffers. So what makes people go brain dead as soon as they become a public official? These feral pigs destroy property like you can't believe. They reproduce SO FAST that they will literally eat there way to starving themselves and other animals of vegetation. They also create holes in the ground that cattle and large animals often step into and break their legs leading to their deaths. There is already in place through the Department of Fish and Game the lawful harvest of these animals. The hunter safety course makes them $12, then the license gets them almost $50 more, then the actual tag for a pig whether you actually get one or not is another $22 EACH. They could make a killing no pun intended. But no they will end up (you and I will end up) paying for a professional hunter to kill all these vermin. Like saying there is a stream polluted with gold dust so the Government needs to spend millions on a company to come out and get rid of the gold.

got that right

"But bringing home the bacon isn’t as easy as it sounds."

Professional (government)

Professional (government) hunters?! Why? Why not simply make make them year-round permitless game?

Pigs

Humane treatment of a pest? What's next PETA, be kind to fleas? I haven't read the entire documents yet but read this: Approximately five years ago, feral pigs were released into the backcountry of San Diego County.Until then,this county was one of the few counties in the state that had no feral pig population and was unaffected by the significant damages they cause. This has now changed, and the region has the opportunity to prevent what other areas in the state and other states throughout the country have learned can be devastating impacts on agriculture,natural landscapes and waters, as well as other potential health and related risks to the region. Who what why were pigs released? For hunting? I don't understand.