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.