The “feral hog apocalypse” is brought to you by Big Wildlife: The same folks who gave us CWD.
NOTE: This post initially appeared on SAExpressNews.com on February 22, 2017
State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s call for a “feral hog apocalypse” has hunters across Texas up in arms about what they see as a poison being unleashed against a perfectly good source of barbecue meat.
At issue is Miller’s approval of Kaput Feral Hog Lure to cut down on a hog population that has gotten out of control in Texas and other states.
Miller touts the move as a “major new weapon” in the Lone Star State’s arsenal against the hogs. He also says it means the Texas Department of Agriculture no longer needs the $900,000 in state funding earmarked for feral hog control research.
“Wild hogs have caused extensive damage to Texas lands and loss of income for many, many years,” Miller said. “I am pleased to announce that the ‘feral hog apocalypse’ may be within Texans’ reach.”
The pesticide’s key ingredient is warfarin, which depending on its concentration is used both as a human blood thinner and a poison for rats. Miller approved a rule change in the Texas Administrative Code allowing it to be classified as a state-limited use pesticide, which means it can be bought and applied by a licensed applicator or someone under that applicator’s watch.
In an interview Wednesday in San Antonio, Miller described how the hogs would be lured to special feeders with 16-pound lids that deer and other wildlife wouldn’t be able to open.
“The hogs come in and they eat the bait; and usually in one to three days, they will be eradicated,” he said.
He said Scimetrics, the Colorado-based manufacturer of Kaput, had asked him to help find manufacturers to make the feeders.
But while Miller says the product is safe and unlikely to be accidentally ingested by people — it turns the fat of the animal that consumes it blue — those who hunt hogs for food and sport think the commissioner hasn’t thought the move through.
“The stand that we take is we do not believe adding a poison into the environment is the correct answer to this,” said Scott Dover of the Texas Hog Hunters Association, a statewide group that by Tuesday night, just hours after Miller’s announcement, had close to 2,500 signatures of people opposing the pesticide.
“You’ve got to look at the potential down the food chain, so to speak,” Dover said. “The hog ingests that poison and goes off to somewhere else. Then you’ve got your scavenger animals, coyotes, buzzards, anything else that comes in there and eats on that animal that could potentially be contaminated with that warfarin product as well. And it may not take nearly as much to kill a coyote or a buzzard as it would the hog.”
Hogwash, Miller said of the hunters’ concerns.
“They’re simply misinformed,” Miller said, pointing out that the levels of warfarin in Kaput only required a caution label as opposed to the skull and crossbones label put on poisons.
Warfarin sold over the counter as rat and mice bait is 0.025 percent warfarin, he said, while the Kaput hog bait is 0.005 percent warfarin, or one-fifth the strength. A human would have to consume 2 pounds of warfarin-eradicated hog liver to get the amount of warfarin that’s in Coumadin, he said, referring to one of the brand names of the blood thinner.
“If we wanted to do it, we could just sell it over the counter with no license; but we’re not going to do that,” he said. “We want people to be responsible with it, even though we’re confident it’s not going to cause anything any harm.”
Miller, who at the start of the year was on the short list of President Donald Trump’s choices to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is no stranger to making headlines with unorthodox moves, such as making a show of allowing cupcakes into schools when they’d never been banned and announcing the return of deep fryers at the bottom of a news release on healthy schools.
Few would disagree with Miller wanting to do something about a feral hog population that in Texas as well as the rest of the U.S. has gotten out of control and shows no signs of slowing down.
What started in the 1500s with a few pigs transported by European settlers as a food source has grown to about 2.6 million wayward pigs wreaking an annual $52 million worth of damage to crops and ranchlands in just Texas, home of the nation’s largest feral hog population.
The TDA estimates landowners are spending about $7 million a year in what has been a futile fight against animals that can grow to several hundred pounds and are able to push their way through just about any fence. And with sows producing litters of about five to six pigs every nine months or so, the numbers are expanding exponentially.
“Some of our farmers and ranchers are near desperation in their efforts to control these destructive pests,” Gene Hall, spokesman of the Texas Farm Bureau, said Wednesday in an email. Hall said the Farm Bureau was studying Miller’s announcement and wasn’t ready to comment.
Jeremy Fuchs, spokesman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said his organization supported the warfarin use.
“We have long encouraged university researchers and the pharmaceutical industry to develop a safe and effective product to control feral swine,” Fuchs said. “Feral hogs are nocturnal, have extremely short gestation periods and large litters. These factors, even with other methods of control, make it difficult to effectively reduce the population of this invasive species.
“We believe that if used properly and in accordance with all regulations, the use of warfarin could help control the feral hog population without sacrificing safety,” he said.
David Haehn, founder of Belton-based Hogs for a Cause, said the TDA numbers are years old now and likely underestimate the feral hog population and its costs. Even so, he’s in agreement with the hunters.
Members of Hogs for a Cause hunt or trap hogs around Texas, then donate the meat to food banks and orphanages that he said appreciate the fresh meat.
In addition, Haehn has had plenty of experience trying to help landowners and municipalities get rid of the hogs, and he said he doesn’t see the warfarin doing much good.
Helicopter hunts for hogs, which Miller as a Texas House member in 2011 helped make legal, are effective until hogs start running under trees or into brushy areas, Haehn said.
While high-tech electronic trapping systems work well, they can cost upward of $4,000 and need vigilant maintenance and monitoring. In his view, it’s going to take a concerted effort by multiple agencies and lots of cooperative landowners, not to mention a lot of money, to really make a dent.
“We have ranches where we’ve taken over 400 hogs off,” he said. “The ranchers don’t have the time and a lot of money to spend on hogs when they’re trying to raise cattle and everything else, and so it becomes a dilemma. But there’s definitely a problem. The herd is doubling every three to five years.”
Warfarin has been tried as a hog control method in Australia, but without much success, Haehn said.
“I don’t see widespread use of it,” Haehn said. “The larger animals cannot consume enough to kill them. The pigs aren’t going to die at the feeder; they’re going to be miles (away from ) the feeder when they die. What is the persistency of the chemical in the hogs? And if you spend any time trapping the animals, you know that they don’t come to bait every night. It’s a long-term process.”
“What I’ve found out is that for eliminating hogs, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and it’s going to take a lot of money.”