While turkeys may grab all the headlines this time of year, wild pigs are devouring just about everything else. From Virginia to Texas, wild pigs — also referred to as feral hogs or boars — are growing in population and impacting ecosystem health.
Virginia is the latest state to feel their growing presence, with the pigs roaming at least 20 counties in the state.
Jim McGlone, an urban forestry conservationist for the Virginia Department of Forestry, told the Washington Post that if wild pigs develop any stronger of a presence in Virginia they will be the same as deer that are seen regularly in yards and streets, “but there will be more of them.”
Mike Dye, a biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said that wild hogs are probably the worst animal around for causing ecological damage. As the saying goes, they eat like pigs — devouring eggs, nuts, berries, roots, crops, plants, small mammals, reptiles, and man-made waste.
According to the Washington Post, wild pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage nationwide each year. They are established in 47 states, making them one of the most invasive species in the country.
In 2009, Germany grappled with its own burgeoning wild pig population, reportedly spurred on by warmer winters that allowed more of the animals to survive and increased CO2 levels that induced trees to drop more acorns and chestnuts — central to wild pig diets.
Just like some look to Texas for future political trends, the wild pig situation there is an indicator of what could happen in other parts of the country. Studies show that there are between 1.8 and 3.4 million wild pigs in Texas, about half the total population in the entire U.S. They inhabit almost every county in the state. And even though Texas’ trigger-happy hunters can target them year round — harvesting up to 750,000 a year — the pigs’ population is expected to grow by about 16 percent a year in Texas, doubling their total population in the next five years.
While the swine already cause over $50 million in damage to the state’s agricultural industry every year, they are now becoming an urban blight as well.
“They’ve come to downtown Dallas using the flood plains, using the levees,” Kevin Acosta, a city employee, told The Guardian. “We’ve already had damage in parks, trails, city building locations near our landfill. Rooting with their nose they can dig two-to-three feet below the surface. They kill, in a sense, the ground –- you’d think a machine had come through.”
A research project conduced in southeast Texas by Rice and Texas A&M found that areas used by wild pigs saw plant diversity reduction that led to smaller numbers of invertebrate and small vertebrate populations. The research also indicated that plots used by the pigs grew more non-native, invasive plants that are hard to control and don’t offer much value to the local ecosystem, such as Chinese tallow trees which crowd out native trees and grasses.
“I call feral hogs ‘walking tallow trees,’ ” Stuart Marcus, manager of the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. “They are just as bad as tallow trees, and wherever they root up the ground, tallow trees seem to sprout by the hundreds.”
In neighboring Louisiana, wild pigs are making it easier not just for invasive flora, but for a more sinister outsider — storm surges. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the swine are uprooting levees and munching on marshland, both of which provide important buffers during strong storm events.
“They are environmental vacuums,’’ Dwight LeBlanc, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife nuisance program, told the Times-Picayune. “A lot of conservation groups consider them the No. 1 invasive species in terms of detriment.’’
According to LeBlanc, wild pigs, which can weigh up to 400 pounds, are capable of producing two litters of a dozen pigs every year.
With so many wild pigs on the loose, in the spirt of Thanksgiving, would it help the problem if Americans developed an appetite for them?
In an op-ed for CNN, Jana Waller, host of Sportsman Channel’s “Skull Bound TV” wrote, “How about we eat them?”:
“Sure, these pigs will never win any beauty pageant but they are wonderful table fare. Butchered into bacon strips and pork chops or barbecued on the spit, they are simply delicious. In my opinion, wild hog meat is just as tasty as common, domesticated pig. In fact, trapped hogs in Texas are often sold to independent buyers who sell these swines overseas to Asian markets.”
Wild turkeys are native to North America, while wild pigs were introduced centuries ago when Europeans brought them over as livestock. As their populations rise, perhaps some Thanksgiving tables will feature a wild pig instead of a turkey next year.