Feral hogs excel at rooting up anything vaguely edible. They also have a talent for stirring up controversy, especially as one landowner’s pest is another’s “cash cow.”
The latest dispute over the fate of feral pigs takes place in Texas, where an estimated 2.5 million of the animals continue to wreak havoc on crops, farm facilities and native wildlife. In response, the state’s agriculture commissioner recently approved the use of poison to control feral hog populations. The product, called "Kaput Feral Hog Lure," is a bait using warfarin as its active ingredient. Warfarin, an anticoagulant, was initially developed in the 1940s as a rodenticide. Since then, it has come into widespread use in human medicine as a blood thinner to treat blood clots and prevent certain types of stroke.
Used in a bait for hogs, the pesticide causes internal bleeding and eventual death. With feral hogs causing an estimated $52 million in damage every year in Texas, the control measure has the backing of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service along with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). According to a TDA news release, the product has been used successfully for feral-hog control in Australia and has been under extensive testing in Texas since 2008.
The EPA approved the bait for general use in controlling feral hogs in January. The TDA has taken a precautionary step in labeling the product for limited use in Texas, meaning its purchase and use are restricted to licensed pesticide applicators or someone under the direct supervision of a licensed applicator.
Not everyone is happy about the decision, however, and the Texas Hog Hunters Association has started a petition on Change.org to block the rule change.
Sport hunters in Texas have grown accustomed to an abundant supply of feral hogs, and many landowners across the state generate income from hunting leases. Healthy populations of feral hogs, which can be hunted year-around, add value to those leases. While most view feral hogs as an invasive and destructive pest, hunters and landowners sometimes encourage their proliferation by feeding them and discouraging the killing of breeding sows. In some cases around the Southern United States, hunting groups have been accused of transplanting feral hogs into new areas to create recreational opportunities. With feral hogs classified as invasive pests rather than game animals, hunters in most states can hunt them year-around with no bag limits. But with sows delivering up to three litters per year, recreational hunting alone does little to control their populations. Some states have even explored bans on recreational hunting for feral hogs, as a way to remove incentives for propagating or dispersing them while allowing other control measures such as trapping and professional hunting to succeed.
In addition to the loss of hog numbers, hunters and environmental groups are concerned that the program could damage non-target wildlife. They also express concerns over potential dangers of consuming pork from hogs that have been exposed to the pesticide.
According to the Kaput Feral Hog Lure product label, a dye in the product imparts a blue color to the fatty tissue of hogs that have consumed it. The label also notes the product could be toxic to fish, birds and other wildlife, and that scavengers including dogs and wildlife could be poisoned by feeding on animals that have consumed the bait. The label specifies grazing restrictions for baited areas and recommends applicators return to baited sites within four days after applications and every two to four days thereafter, to ensure proper disposal of dead hogs or non-target animals.