June 7, 2011 — -- It looks as if San Diego County is far from becoming hog heaven for the feral pigs in the area that potential eradication.
With no natural predators and voracious breeding habits, hunters in California cannot keep up with the expanding population of these wild pigs that weigh between 250 and 350 pounds. Even though they are not dangerous to humans, the hefty creatures, with their dark fur and large tusks, are a sight to see. They have also been known to make deep grunting sounds.
Many landowners view these pigs as a destructive nuisance. "They tear up property, tear up landscape and tear up habitats," said Andrew Hughan, the public information officer at the California Department of Fish and Game.
Now the federal government is considering stepping in.
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a plan for eradicating these creatures. The plan would use professional hunters, traps and even helicopter shooters to control the spread of these pigs.
The issue is that these pigs are as sneaky as they are abundant. While some estimate the pigs' numbers to be in the hundreds, others estimate them in the thousands. The stealthy pigs have a tendency to come out at night and change their habits once they know they are being hunted.
No one knows for sure where these hogs came from. Some say the animals migrated from other states, or perhaps even Mexico. Others have speculated that the pigs could be the result of a failed attempt to create a game-hunting venture on the property of one of the native Indian tribes.
There is no bag limit on how many hogs hunters can kill, but Hughan said it is "realistically impossible" to eradicate this "literally unchecked species."
The pigs have been wreaking havoc in many different ways, said Brian Harris, the public affairs officer for the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California.
"They have a destructive effect on the vegetation of the area, and they are damaging the oak and grassland habitats by rooting around," said Harris. The hogs also like to eat the acorns that are supposed to be seeds for new trees, and the eggs of the forest's many ground nesting birds.
Harris said that the plan is still in its "scoping phase" and will go through a full environmental assessment, with opportunities for public comment before any decisions are made.
Even though Harris said the ultimate goal is to manage the population, not eliminate it, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have already spoken out against the plan.
Martin Mersereau, PETA's director of cruelty investigations, told the Los Angeles Times that "The feral pigs are there through no fault of their own. They're just trying to feed their families."
The presence of these pigs has been confirmed in 56 of California's 58 counties, and Hughan believes they are likely present in the remaining two counties and just have not been spotted.
These feral pigs populate the country far beyond California. The hogs are all over the country, including in Washington, Oregon, Texas, Georgia and Michigan. Attempts at eradication have also been made in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Hawaii.
Even though these hefty, dark animals have large tusks and can make frightening snorting noises, they are not the same as boars. In fact, these animals are just older versions of typical farm pigs.
While they can typically be eaten, the difficulty with this plan would be moving and caring for the carcasses fast enough for them to still be edible. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that all pigs would either be euthanized on-site or taken off-site to be euthanized, and that the carcasses would be properly disposed of according to local or state statutes.
Kevin Brennan, a wildlife biologist with California Department of Fish and Game said that even though the Forest Service wants to eradicate the animals, this is nearly impossible.
"It's like trying to bail the ocean or build sand castles -- the waves will keep coming," said Brennan. He thinks it may be possible to better control the problem, but not to wipe out the pigs.
From now until June 26, the plan is open for public comment before further steps are taken.