With summer weather and dry conditions across most of Texas fueling livestock and wildlife competition for fresh water and food and forage sources, the Texas Agriculture Department (TDA) is once again making matching grants available to Texas counties for regional feral hog abatement programs designed to reduce the number of the state's wild hog population.
Texas is home to about 2.6 million feral swine, about half the number of feral swine in the United States, and that number is growing every year. According to a report from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service's Wildlife Division, feral hogs can be found from the Panhandle to the Gulf coast, from the arid southwest to the eastern Pineywoods of the Lone Star State, and in every one of Texas' 254 counties.
The population and range of feral hogs have expanded dramatically because they are extremely adaptable animals with a high reproductive rate. Relocation by hunters, disease control in domestic animals, the management of rangelands, and habitat improvements made for livestock and wildlife also have helped feral hogs grow in numbers.
These troublesome wild animals have caused damages to urban and rural areas, including golf courses, residential yards, and farms and ranches, racking up an estimated $500 million in losses each year, a number that is also growing each year.
Feral hogs are domestic hogs that have escaped or been released into the wild. With each generation the animals' domestic characteristics diminish as they develop the traits necessary to survive in the wild. In some cases, these wild feral hogs have mated with Eurasian wild boars, brought to the state for hunting mostly in the 1930s, and have accelerated the wild and feral aspects of common breeds found in the wild.
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Feral hogs are so adaptable to different environments and so adept at survival and have such a high reproductive rate, their population explosion caught many officials by surprise. Overall, feral swine today are smaller, leaner, and more muscular than their domestic counterparts. Average boar and sow weights are about 130 pounds and 110 pounds, respectively, although the largest adults may weigh more than 400 pounds and be more than 3 feet tall and 5 feet long.
Males have larger heads and tusks than females. Compared to domestic swine, feral hogs have more well-developed shoulders, longer and larger snouts and tusks, smaller and mostly pricked ears, longer and coarser hair, and straighter tails
Feral hogs damage rural and urban areas
Most at risk is the state's agricultural industry. Feral swine commonly root through crop fields, pastures and at ponds, watering holes and along creeks and rivers. They damage and destroy delicate eco-systems and also spread disease to livestock and other wildlife frequenting the same water resources. They are increasingly found in urban areas where they are known to root through gardens and lawns and human refuse.
“The feral hog population has exploded in the last 20 years, and our ability to control them will depend on two primary factors,” said TAD Commissioner Todd Staples in a statement Tuesday announcing this year's summer grant program. “First, our efforts must be coordinated across all public entities and private landowners. Second, we must focus on the most low-cost, high-return methods when investing limited taxpayer dollars into this effort."
The grant program targets regional hog abatement programs operated by county governments. The program, known as CHAMPS (County Hog Abatement Matching Program), makes grant funds up to $30,000 available to counties on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis. CHAMP is designed to encourage counties across Texas to create partnerships with other counties, local governments, businesses, landowners and associations to reduce the feral hog population and the damage caused by these pests.
Selected applicants will receive project funding on a cost reimbursement basis. Applications are reviewed through a competitive evaluation process. Each county must partner with at least one other Texas county that has an interest in feral hog abatement.
In 2010, the TDA created the Hog Out Challenge to encourage locally-initiated feral hog abatement activities in counties across Texas through a coordinated and concentrated attack. It resulted in some of the lowest-cost, highest-yielding hog removal activities since 2006, according to Staples, when the state began investing in regional hog control efforts. Staples says CHAMP, in partnership with Hog Out, will strengthen the state’s feral hog abatement initiatives by adding a regional focus across county lines.
“Feral hogs are destroying front yards, farmers’ fields, golf courses and other public and private properties all across Texas, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. This is both an urban and rural problem that directly impacts our economy and the future of Texas agriculture. We need to step up our efforts to thwart these dangerous creatures, and CHAMP does just that,” Staples said.
The deadline to submit an application is July 1. Applications can be downloaded from the TDA website at TexasAgriculture.gov. Selected grant recipients will be announced in August. For county officials needing more information about CHAMP, contact TDA’s Grants Office at [email protected]or call Mindy Fryer at (512) 463-6908.
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