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Forth Worth Plans To Trap, Kill Wild Hogs

September, 2002

HOGS City employees are preparing to trap and kill hundreds of feral hogs at the Fort Worth Nature Center to slim dow a growning population that puts visitors - and the landscape - at risk.

Fort Worth - Wayne Clark was exploring a remote part of the Fort Worth Nature Center when he saw deep holes in the ground - as if someone had been digging for buried treasure.

Over the next few months, he leaned that the nature retreat had become infested by a growing population of feral hogs that could put visitors and the environment at risk.

To eliminate the animals' threat, Clark, who supervises the center, and staff members will start a program as soon as next month to track and kill as many feral hogs as they can find.

"People have died from feral hog attacks," Clark said. "It's not extremely common, but the potential is there. You've got a wild animal that weighs up to 400 pounds, has sharp teeth and isn't afraid to attack."

At least one dog has been attacked and nearly killed by wild swine at the center.

At the same time, the feral hogs compete with other animals for available food and have damaged ecosystems by their rooting and wallowing, he said.

"We think this program can work," Clark said. "We don't think we can eradicate the problem, but we can control it. We feel we can reduce the hogs' numbers, which reduces damage and risk to visitors."

This has drawn criticism from groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which say the feral hogs shouldn't be killed.

"We regret that the Nature Center wants to remove the feral pigs from the area, but to do so using lethal methods is unconscionable when other methods exist," said Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with the north Virginia-based PETA. "We don't believe the feral pigs should be slaughtered in the name of conservation.

"They should use methods such as contraception and fencing to keep these animals away from areas of concern."

Others defend the decision to remove the wild swine from the Nature Center by any means necessary.

"People must remember and know what the purpose of the Nature Center is," said Bill Meadows, a former city councilman and chairman of the Nature Center Endowment Fund. "The whole point is to preserve and nurture what is natural in this area - the indigenous plants and animals.

"When a species comes in and serves to significantly alter the mission, there's no question that you have to take a dramatic action," he said. "If that means you have to eliminate some of those animals, then that's what you have to do."

There are as many as 300 to 400 feral hogs at the nature center, a population that is rapidly growing, said Richard Zavala, director of the city's parks and community services department.

Over the past few years, city and center officials have researched ways to thin the feral hog population and have consulted with national and state experts at agencies ranging from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Feral hogs can't be transported from one area to another because of the threat of spreading livestock disease such as swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission.

"We will trap and euthanize them by shooting them on site," Zavala said. "It will be done in a controlled process, with the traps and euthanasia done by nature center staff in nonpublic areas during nonpublic times."

"The remains will be left out at the Nature Center to decompose," he said. "That's the way we do things at the Nature Center. It's a circle of life."

Feral hogs, which are a mix of domestic hogs and the more aggressive Russian boars, typically are dark and furry and have longer tusks than domestic hogs. They are unprotected, non-game animals.

But they are prolific breeders, destroy the landscape and can be a danger to people and other animals, said John Davis, one of two Texas Parks and Wildlife urban biologists who serve the Fort Worth/Dallas region.

These hogs can begin breeding by the time they are 6 months old and in a "good" year can bear 20-24 piglets. As of 1991, there were an estimated 1 million feral hogs - who have a lifespan of about 8 years - in Texas, he said.

Trapping and shooting the hogs is a common way to control their population and remove them from areas they are destroying. Leaving their carcasses at the center is an ecologically sensitive way to rid the area of the animals, Davis said.

"This has to be done," he said. "There are a lot of people who aren't going to be comfortable removing the animals, euthanizing a species found on the Nature Center.

"If it doesn't happen, there will be so much more damage done to the Nature Center and so many other animals will suffer. There's no other answer."

The easiest time to catch the hogs is during the cooler months when they are more mobile, searching for food such as acorns. That's when Clark and the other nature center employees plan to start laying traps.

The traps will be mostly steel boxes or metal fences with doors that allow hogs to enter, to find the bait left inside. After the hogs enter, they will not be able to escape, but others would be able to get inside, Clark said.

Clark said he hopes to give the City Council a yearly update on the progress of the feral hog management program.

"We feel like we're doing the best we can on this," he said.

By Anna M. Tinsley

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