February 03, 2022

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I was amazed by the length’s residents go to accommodate the diversity of local wildlife.  Turkeys, mountain lions, deer, bobcats, and foxes mix with the skunks, racoons, and squirrels that are all treated on laissez-faire terms by humans.  However, the line is being drawn on feral pigs.  They are tearing up lawns, ripping through golf courses, threatening drinking water, and disturbing the harvests at Napa vineyards.  “They are a pest to just about everybody,” said Eric Sklar, member of the California Fish and Game Commission who introduced a bill last week in the state legislature that would make it easier for hunters to kill feral pigs. 

Feral pigs have been a menace across the south for decades.  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the pigs cause $2.5 billion in damage every year.  Now, in what one federal official called a “feral swine bomb,” the pigs are threatening states to the north and west.  Some Northeastern states say they have eliminated their feral pig populations, but at least 30 states still have wild pig populations.  In California, 56 of the state’s 58 counties have wild pigs. Hundreds of pigs have invaded the creek beds that feed into the San Leandro reservoir, which provides drinking water to cities across the East Bay.  The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which manages the water system, spends $50,000 a year trapping pigs, and on average captures and kills 60 to 70 pigs a year.  Last year it culled a record 226 pigs.

The USDA estimates there are 6 million feral pigs in the US. They are often hybrids of domestic pigs brought by European explorers five centuries ago and Eurasian or Russian wild boar imported in the 1900’s for sport hunting.  These hybrids have since become a super invader.  The California legislation introduced on January 19th would remove the need for hunters to purchase a $25 “tag,” which gives the legal right to kill one pig.  Some experts believe the nomadic pigs will just move to areas where hunting is not allowed.  Animal rights and conservation groups are opposed to culling of pigs, but more typical is the nuanced view of Brendan Cummings, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that focuses on the protection of wildlife and endangered species.  These are “individual living animals that we should treat as ethically as possible.”  At the same time, he is not opposed to culling or hunting pigs in places where they are an invasive species damaging the environment.

Thoughts:  Most Americans do not understand, or choose to ignore, how our food arrives on the table.  While most complain when there is a shortage at the market, we may cringe at the thought of an animal (mammal, bird, fish, shellfish) being “culled” for our consumption.  Chris Davies is a licensed trapper who hunts feral pigs in the Bay Area.  He distributes the dead pigs to locals who butcher them into pork chops and sausage, yet others are unsure about eating the pigs.  One woman who struggles with the destruction the pigs cause said, “Honestly, if somebody said to me, ‘Would you like a pig carcass?’  I’d be like, what?  No, I’ll go to Safeway, thanks.”  The source of food is less specific when it is wrapped in plastic.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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