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There's a hog task force in Texas, and it's busy with the 'feral swine bomb'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Almost 40 states in the U.S. have an issue with wild hogs. We're talking millions of rampaging hogs, dubbed the feral swine bomb, doing over $2.5 billion in property and crop damage each year. States are taking various approaches to the problem, and in Texas, which is home to an estimated 2.6 million feral hogs, a couple of counties are paying people to kill the animals.

We're joined now by Nick Dornak, director of watershed services at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. He is also a wildlife biologist and the program coordinator at the Central Texas Feral Hog Task Force. Hey, Nick. Welcome.

NICK DORNAK: Hello, Juana. Good to be with you this morning.

SUMMERS: What makes these hogs such a nuisance? People, as I understand, they don't like them. They seem to hate them.

DORNAK: They have an outsize impact on water quality. The fact that pigs use our creeks and rivers like highways means they spend a lot of time in there and, of course, then unfortunately, defecating in the streams and rivers. So we've seen dramatic increases in E. coli in a lot of central Texas streams and rivers.

SUMMERS: All right, so you all have restarted a bounty program this month. Tell us a little bit about it. How does it work? And from what you know now, at least, has this program been effective in reducing the population of feral hogs there?

DORNAK: We have actually restarted a bounty program in Hays County. But the bounty program in Caldwell County has been active since 2012. We encourage landowners. We encourage hunters and trappers to work with the private landowners. We provide them a small incentive of $5 a pig. We've actually harvested somewhere over 18,000 pigs. But it is a difficult task. One female pig with her offspring and those offspring's offspring can become 200 in just two years. So we have utilized grants and funding from our counties to provide trapping equipment. We've done aerial control where we actually contract with the local helicopter company to take out feral hogs from the air. We've also really worked hard to educate people on the impacts from feral pigs and what they can do to manage those.

SUMMERS: All right, just where did all of these feral hogs come from?

DORNAK: The Spanish explorer de Soto brought over pigs back in the 1500s to the southeastern United States, but it wasn't until the early 1900s when the Eurasian wild boar was brought over for hunting - that really was the final piece of the puzzle to create this group of feral pigs that we see today. But I'll tell you, the pigs sure love Texas like me.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) What has been the reaction from people locally on this issue? I know that there have been several animal rights groups who have issued statements opposed to this, saying that the killing of these feral hogs is cruel.

DORNAK: Well, we've had tremendous support locally for our programs. We are working to do things in the most humane way possible. The wild pig is actually fantastic on the dinner plate or on the smoker, so trying to utilize that meat is another way to honor the animal and take care of the problem at the same time, I feel. So we're working very hard to be transparent in this very difficult task to address wild pigs.

SUMMERS: That was Nick Dornak, a wildlife biologist and a program coordinator at the Central Texas Feral Hog Task Force. Nick, thank you so much for talking to us.

DORNAK: Thank you, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF UKKONEN'S "THREE DURATIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.