Texas

Once A Rural Problem, Feral Hogs Are Now Encroaching On Houston’s Suburbs

“Because they can eat just about anything, and live just about anywhere, there’s no reason to suspect that the problem is ever going to slow down. It will just get worse.”

East Texas feral hogs after they’ve been trapped and transferred to a trailer.

Feral hogs have long been a problem in rural parts of Texas. But now, researchers say they’re increasingly entering urban areas across the state — including Houston's suburbs — damaging property and raising public health concerns.

"We have let pigs grow to such a number that they are living in urban spaces and we’re seeing them regularly," said Texas A&M wildlife specialist John Tomecek.

Wild pigs cause more than $52 million in agricultural damage in Texas each year, according to estimates by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. As they move into the state's suburbs, property owners and municipalities are also starting to bear an economic cost, as wild hogs destroy golf courses, right of ways and lawns.

Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said feral hogs have become a nuisance in his precinct, which includes The Woodlands.

"They are a nomadic, invasive species that roots for food and when they do so they end up destroying private property, whether it's your grass or your flowerbeds, your yard," he said. "The real concern is that they can inflict huge amounts of property damage in a small amount of time."

At a recent City Council meeting in Conroe, residents raised similar concerns and asked that they be allowed to install electric fences on their property to keep the hogs out. Further south in Pasadena, feral hogs were also on the City Council agenda, after reports of property damage along the Armand Bayou. And the Kingwood Service Association, which keeps a log of feral hog activity, has also reported an increase in hogs in recent months compared to 2018.

Besides property damage, there are also public health and safety concerns.

Wild hogs can be dangerous when they feel cornered. In December 2019, a woman in Chambers County died after she was attacked by feral hogs.

"They’re a detriment to water quality, soil quality, wildlife, health and human safety, all kinds of things," Tomecek said.

Tomecek said pigs usually stay close to water, which causes problems when they root for food nearby.

"They turn up the soil, they destroy plant communities, they consume the plants, which increases erosion and runoff into water bodies," he said, adding they can also spread E. coli and other bacterial contaminants into water sources.

Trying to control the population

The feral pig population in Texas has ballooned over the past decade. In 2012, there were an estimated 2.6 million wild hogs — current estimates put the population at 3 million and upwards, according to Tomecek.

"Pigs are one of the most reproductively successful large mammals on the planet," he said. "And because they can eat just about anything, and live just about anywhere, there's no reason to suspect that the problem is ever going to slow down. It will just get worse."

One of the problems with controlling the population is that a group of pigs can occupy up to several thousand acres. "Most land holdings in Texas aren't that big, so it's hard to get containment and management of them because they’ll simply move across the fence line to your neighbor and then you’re out of luck," Tomecek said.

In Montgomery County Precinct 3, Commissioner Noack recently launched a 90-day, $14,500 trapping program.

"We are doing this because they are living in or traveling through county property to do damage to private property,” Noack said. “And so we have a responsibility and we own the land so we want to take care of this problem."

Still, Noack said he recognized it's not a long-term solution.

"If this were something you could trap your way out of, the state wouldn't be in the situation it is today," he said.

Noack added that officials in Montgomery County are also working with Harris County and state officials to develop a regional plan.

"The important thing is to be proactive. The first time you have pigs don’t say, ‘Oh they’re not bad yet we’ll just wait,'" said Tomecek. "Because once numbers build they’re hard to get rid of."

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