Dana Page isn’t a cold-blooded killer in the traditional sense of the word. Animals, sunshine, and public lands are all things she enjoys in equal measure.
To keep pigs from destroying parks, destroying lawns, polluting waterways, and eradicating native species like a red-legged frog and the California tiger salamander, Page argues “depredation” must be part of the toolset.
According to Page, a natural resource program coordinator for Santa Clara County Parks, “it’s hard to sit back and see the degradation.”
Land managers, farmers, homeowners, conservation biologists, and water district officials in California are all dealing with a major problem: the state’s feral pig population is out of control. However, there isn’t a clear solution to the problem.
It’s a questionable idea to make it simpler for hunters to shoot pigs. California’s animals and plants would be devastated if their food sources were targeted. The swine pests will continue to cause harm until a full-scale military action is launched to eradicate them.
When it comes to digging up dirt-dwelling insect larvae and eating small mammals, insects, eggs, acorns, and plants, pigs are essentially roaming Rototiller-type snout-and-hoof machines.
Their feeding habits not only harm the environment, but their feces offer an even greater menace. There are more than 30 infectious diseases that can be carried by these large mammals, and 20 of them, including leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis, and tularemia, can be transmitted to people by them.
E. coli was found in spinach from the Salinas Valley in 2006, and food safety experts blamed feral pigs. In addition, water authorities and engineers are concerned about contaminating reservoirs and rivers with the pigs’ excrement.
People have been injured and, in rare cases, killed by wild hogs around the country.
This year, a 59-year-old Texas healthcare worker was killed by a herd of wild pigs as she attempted to walk the few steps from her car to the door of her clients.
Since 1825, just five Americans have been killed by a wild pig in the United States. Since sharp-tusked feral pig numbers have exploded, wildlife managers fear that lethal encounters will become more common as a result.
Page is one of those executives. Biologist Page oversees the 52,000 acres of parkland in the county, which stretches from the lush “fruit basket” of the Guadalupe River Valley to the Santa Cruz Mountains’ foothills.
Even though Page isn’t allowed to kill pigs due to worries about animal welfare and expense, Page is nevertheless required to keep a large number of them in their pen at all times, as long as they don’t constitute an immediate threat. “Things are only going to get worse,” she predicted of the parkgoers’ annual reports of two or three close brushes with pigs.
By relying on the efforts of other land managers, including those from state parks, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, Page hopes to keep swine out of the area.
‘If you don’t do it on a regular basis, you’re just attracting more animals,’ she said.
Although the exact number of feral hogs in California is unknown, it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. According to the USDA, there are an estimated 6 million people in the United States.
There have been sightings of wild pigs in 56 out of California’s 58 counties. San Francisco and Alpine are the only two counties free of pigs. Fish and Wildlife Department spokesman Ken Paglia said it’s probably more true to say they’re “common throughout California but less common at high elevations and the desert.” Paglia noted that.
Since someone would doubt us, he continued, “I wouldn’t want to make the claim that there has never been a wild pig in Alpine County.”
Also, they’re spreading across the country. A surfer was attacked by feral pigs while she was surfing in Hawaii, one of 42 states where feral pigs have been linked in large-scale forest degradation, endangered species threats, and attacks on surfers.
Porks are blamed for between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion in losses to agriculture and private property each year, according to federal officials across the country. Researchers and public wildlife authorities have labeled them the “most harmful” invasive species in the United States by environmental organizations.
A love affair between free-ranging domesticated pigs and European wild boars, introduced at different times and in different locations, is what led to the creation of feral pigs in North America today.
The variety of pigs roaming the golden hills of California is mostly descended from Spanish missionaries’ 1700s imports and the wild boar George Gordon Moore, a Carmel-by-the-Sea bon vivant, introduced in the 1920s.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby persona is said to have been inspired by Moore’s purchase of Rancho San Carlos in Monterey County in the early 1920s. He wanted to build a hunting preserve with nine sows and three boars that he could share with his friends and business partners.
Those boars, on the other hand, quickly made friends with the feral pigs that descended from the missionaries’ herd.
Some biologists refer to these creatures as “super pigs” because of their prodigious reproductive output and adaptive food, which has allowed them to thrive in an array of ecological settings.
They’re also like rabbits when it comes to reproduction: There can be up to four litters of wild piglets per year, and females are sexually mature by the time they are four months old.
To a pal, he confided in 1963, “I’ve got so many pigs now!” Moore claimed in a letter that the final time he met William Randolph Hearst, Sr., he told him, “Your pigs have reached San Simeon.”
At least one sow and a large group of her young make up a typical pack, or sounder, of pigs.
For the Santa Clara County Parks, Dana Page is the natural resource program coordinator.
When I recently visited Joseph D. Grant Park in San Jose to observe the white clapboard historical house, I saw two sounders of around 15 to 20 pigs digging up fields and burrowing around the exterior of the former ranch. It was evident that retreat was in order when some of the sows refused to look away from the Times reporter, who approached the flock.
No natural predators exist in North America for such bands of wild animals. While adult coyotes and even mountain lions are too small to take down piglets protected by 200-pound sows, they’ve shown little interest in attacking them.
A Monterey County Parks manager referred to the local pig population as “exponentially growing,” saying, “You’re talking exponential expansion.” To keep the destructive pigs out of his parks, which are located near Moore’s former property, an upmarket housing development named the Santa Lucia Preserve, Flores has spent years attempting.
His progress was short-lived, as the pigs learned to carry trash cans. Broken the iron chains tying metal baskets to stout poles, they threw trash around the park.
Flores is allowed to slaughter pigs in Monterey, unlike in Santa Clara. Napa County Senator Bill Dodd hopes the method of eradication will become more widely used in the state.
Reducing rules and costs for pig hunting are among the measures proposed by Dodd in an effort to minimize the number of pigs that are released into the wild and to close pig hunting enterprises. Allowing nighttime hunting and the use of artificial lights to monitor and locate the pigs would also be made possible under this proposal.
A postal worker from Santa Cruz, Kelly Papenfus, lives in San Jose, so the changes won’t have as big an impact on her as they might on other hunters. In particular, for individuals looking for a wild game on public land.
Instead of merely easing regulations and costs, he wants to see the state offer up more pig hunting zones.
There are no restrictions on the number of pig tags that a hunter can purchase from the state, according to Papenfus. It’s hard to discover pigs in public places, he remarked, because there are so few. Pigs, on the other hand, know not to congregate in the limited areas where hunting is permitted.
In the more than two decades that Papenfus has been hunting, he has only killed one pig. After being invited by the landlord, he slaughtered that pig on his private property and killed it.
Department of Fish and Wildlife data confirm what Papenfus has observed: California’s public land pig harvest has fluctuated between 4 percent and 7 percent between 2007 and 2021.
A whopping 81% to 93% of pigs were taken from the private territory, where hunters often pay exorbitant fees to capture one. There were also unreported harvests and pigs hunted on military property.
No matter how easy and inexpensive it is to shoot wild pigs in California, it has been shown in other places that more hunting will not be an effective approach to eradicating wild pigs.
Hunting has become popular in Texas, the state with the most pigs. Tournaments and festivals are both common occurrences in this area. Even hot air balloons and helicopters are available for hunters to utilize in their search for game.
There are states where pigs have invaded or returned, and officials claim they won’t be issuing licenses to kill pigs because evidence suggests that hunting actually encourages the spread of the pig population.
Hunters believe that if they had the legal right to shoot pigs, it would encourage them to maintain healthy pig populations and relocate them to locations where they are scarce. It’s supported by genetic studies. They discovered that human-facilitated transportation was a factor in the genetic variation in pigs that they were studying in Florida.
Texas A&M researchers estimate that feral pork populations are moving at a rate of 55 to 70 miles per hour… on backs of trucks and trailers,” according to a recent paper on the subject.
Landowners are experimenting with various methods of pig management out of sheer desperation. Page claims that introducing predatory nematodes (a worm-like critter) to the soil in Santa Clara County has been successful in reducing the number of grubs that pigs eat.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, according to Dennis Orthmeyer, the California state director of USDA’s Wildlife Services.
According to Orthmeyer, “Nematodes would be problematic on huge areas, such as the Joseph D. Grant Park on Mt. Hamilton. “In the city? Nematodes aren’t something most people want in their gardens, and many people don’t know that.”
There are, however, a few areas in California where the swine invasion has been halted.
More than 5,036 feral pigs were killed by National Park Service employees on Santa Cruz Island in 2007. Pigs brought by shepherds in the 1850s were the ancestors of these pigs, which had no wild boar effect.
It’s also possible to see the California condor in Pinnacles National Park. With rolling hills of oak forest and grass, the park spans the border between San Benito and Monterey counties. The park’s spectacular interior is made up of finger-like rocks that are thrust out into the sky.
It’s as though you’ve stepped back in time as you arrive at the park from Hollister.
Park administrators in the 1980s decided to build a 33-mile-long fence around the border of the park to keep the pigs out.
According to Dan Ryan, the park’s director of animal biology and an avid hunter, it took nearly two decades to complete the first section of the fence, which was initially only 24 miles long.
Afterward, it took two years to trap, hunt, and kill all of the pigs that had escaped from the building in 2003. It took an additional two and a half years to eliminate all the pigs after the fence was expanded in 2011.
I think they’re very clever. Once they recognize a snare, they are able to flee. You won’t get another opportunity to work with them. “They’re getting it.”
In the first six months following the park’s installation of the fence, it took Ryan around 20 to 25 hours of hunting time to kill a pig, according to his records.
This is the end of the road; we were down to one or two individuals, but nature takes them before we do.
It’s amazing how intelligent they are, he continued. “By seeing a trap, they are able to flee. With them, you won’t have another chance. They pick things up along the way.”
Since the perimeter was built in November, the pigs had their first fence breach.
According to Ryan, coyotes had excavated a hole wide enough for a pig to fit through the structure’s foundation. Pigs followed acorns that dropped into the hole from a neighboring oak and emerged on the other side.
Because they were quickly discovered, one hurried back down the hole and disappeared from sight. The other, a guy, is still on the loose.”
His demise was clearly seen on a recent workday. Uprooted soil and other tell-tale signs of hog foraging were found beneath the park’s stately trees and lush grassy fields.
“It’s mind-boggling how much damage a single pig can do,” said Ryan, pointing to a spot of disturbed soil where native plants like pitcher sage and bush lupine should be growing.
A healthier and more diverse variety of vegetation could be seen as he led tourists along the fence, which is just thigh-high for animals such as mountain lions, deer, and coyotes to hop over.
“We’ve had success with it. We’ve built a place we can command, an island “he explained. It’s impossible to encircle the entire state with a fence.