The good news on the feral hog front is that most of the pigs are moving out of communities and neighborhoods as the temperature starts to rise. The bad news is they are moving into waterways across the state increasing the chance for contamination.
"As we get hotter here in Texas, we are going to see more hog activity be centrally located around those water sources. We are also going to see them go nocturnal," said James Long, the project coordinator for the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute. His job is to help educate landowners about the feral hog problem while giving them the latest information on eradication efforts.
"Texas is a majority privately owned state. For us to make an impact on wild pig populations we are going to have to continue to engage landowners and honestly landowners are the ones who are bearing the brunt of these wild pigs."
The damage is hard to calculate but conservative estimates are $500 million in agriculture losses alone from feral hogs. That estimate doesn't include damage to natural resources and wildlife. It also doesn't include the cost landowners incur from keeping feral hogs off their property.
There are an estimated 2.6 million feral hogs in Texas. Predicting their movement patterns is not an exact science but they have some definite habits: they are drawn to water. During the colder months they often invade communities looking for watered lawns to forge for food. This is often when trappers and called in to remove them from neighborhoods. As the temperature rises the hogs move towards larger water supplies to regulate their body temperature.
Edward Dickey is a trapper with Texas Wild Hog Control. He says that's been the case with his clients in the Houston area.
"I can only suspect the hogs have moved away from the outskirts of Houston and further into the countryside. Our calls for service seem to slow during summer." Dickey says his traps are now mostly set up in rural parts of the state that have a natural water supply.
The potential damage the hogs cause to waterways has only increased over the years as various herds return to the same areas. Long says E. coli and other diseases are a potential hazard as the pigs root along the banks. In addition, they tend to collapse the riparian area of any waterway.
"They destroy that riparian area. They destroy the habitats for animals that live in those areas. They also destroy the native grasses and plants that live along those riparian areas,” Long said. “They often create environments that allow for non-native plants to out compete our native plants."
The riparian area transitions from the water to the surrounding vegetation. Destruction of the riparian area weakens the banks and allows for sediments to further seep into the water potentially causing contamination.
"If you are a landowner who is drawing water out of a river or creek on your property it is imperative that you keep them out of there," Long said.
Eradication efforts to stem the growing feral hog population have increased over the years. Long says aerial gunning and trapping have been the most effective means of control. Multiple studies on toxicants are taking place but Long says even that won't fully curtail the population.