We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
In the past year we have posted quite a bit on pigs. A reader was kind enough to send in his Show-and-Tell photo above of a recent Texas pig hunt. Is that a piglet his friend is holding in his mouth?
(By the way, which crude, culturally-insensitive reader suggested dropping these from 20,000 feet on Baghdad to clean out Sadr City?)
Our contributor Gwynnie sent this note on Friday:
This weekend, Gwynnie will join a group of ranchers using their depredation permit on a Northern California ranch to try to dent the population of European wild boars that have invaded the California Coast Range and beyond. She will try to post pictures next week or so. She has done a little research on the issue and found an excellent article excerpted below:
On the green hills of California, under the virgin oaks and over the rolling countryside, the first explorers from the Old World observed large, brown, muscle-backed grizzly bears--sometimes small sleuths of them--grazing over the land. The big bruins thrived on acorns and dug up bulbs, roots and mushrooms, and the frontiersmen, in turn, hunted them for sport, meat and cooking oil.
But the grizzly bear vanished from California in the 1920s, and the animal that snorts and roots about in the chaparral and oak ecosystem today is the wild pig, Sus scrofa. While many hikers cherish encounters with this species, others are not at all pleased with its prosperity in the New World. This swine is not native to the Americas, and as its numbers and range continue to grow, the pigs put increasing pressure on California's native flora and fauna. Many stewards of the land want them out.
"They're just out of control in some parts," says Brendan O'Neil, a state ecologist working with several Northern California conservation-based organizations. "They eat everything and they dig up the ground to get it. You come out to one of these parks in the wintertime when it's raining, and it looks like someone's roto-tilled the place. The pigs have just hammered the oak tree recruitment, and there are almost none left in some places."
Sus scrofa's history in California dates back to the arrival of the Spanish, who tended not to go conquistadoring without a sturdy supply of live pigs in the hold. Successive waves of European immigrants introduced more and more farm pigs, many of which escaped into the hills and established viable populations.
In 1925, the real trouble began when George Gordon Moore, an affluent landowner, introduced Eurasian wild boars to his ranch near Carmel. Not content to reside on their host's spacious property, where Moore and his hunting buddies frequently took shots at them, the pigs spread out to explore and settle the attractive frontier. They interbred with the feral domestic pigs, as the two groups reside in the same genus and species, and from an evolutionary perspective, the resulting creature has done very well. Wild pigs occupied only 10 of California's 58 counties in the 1960s. Today, they dwell in 56, with only San Francisco's environment being too metropolitan for piggy tastes and Alpine County's too high, dry and desolate.
"The pigs just haven't moved into Alpine yet," says Doug Updike, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game's Sacramento office. "There are some pretty nasty, rugged regions in Europe, and they live there just fine."
The overwhelming argument against unabated growth of wild pigs is their habit of digging up and destroying the landscape. In their search for edible bulbs, roots, mushrooms, tubers and grubs, pigs rip and root with their toes and tusks, turning over the soil and disrupting plant populations. The extent to which this actually harms the order of things is a subject of debate. Yet the physical effects of rooting can be visibly striking.
It is also fashionable among pigs to bathe in mud. They seek out natural springs and blend the cool mineral waters with mountain soil to produce thick and soothing lathers. It's fine treatment for their tick-infested hides, but naturalists don't like it one bit.
"Most animals just drink from springs, not wallow in them," ecologist Brendan O'Neil says. "There are tons of springs in the Bay Area that are just trashed because of pigs. And in the plant community, there's been a loss of bulb truffles and geophytes because of them. Native Americans gathered some of the same plants, but they didn't root out the whole thing. They left the bulb there for future generations. I don't think pigs have that sort of ethic of preserving resources."
The state regulations on hunting pigs, while not as lax as they were just a few years ago, are still relatively loose. A hunting tag giving permission to shoot runs $16.80 on top of a $35 hunting license, and there is no limit to the number of tags a hunter may purchase in a year. (An elk tag, by contrast, costs upwards of $300 and is issued through a lottery system.) Most pigs get shot in the winter and spring, but if averaged out smoothly over 12 months, the rate cruises along steadily at about 100 pigs bagged every day in California and over 30,000 annually. State trappers shoot several thousand more, with most of the meat going to charity.
But none of this is enough to balance the pigs' wild birth rate, and with no reliable wild predators, the population is growing. State wildlife experts estimate that between 200,000 and 1.5 million wild pigs live in California, and in some parts of the state are as densely packed as 250 to 300 individuals per 6,000 acres. Mountain lions occasionally attack them, but the cats prefer such daintier prey as deer. Meanwhile, private property and many parklands serve as accidental refuges where the animals live and breed in peace, continually moving outward to replenish hunter-impacted regions.
"We're never going to eliminate pigs from state parks, no doubt," says O'Neil. "They're like a weed. Mountain lions and coyotes will take piglets now and then, but once they reach 350 or 400 pounds--which just takes a few years--they are just pig-making machines. All we can really do is try to reduce them to manageable levels."
A sow may annually produce two litters of up to 12 youngsters in each batch, and although most piglets will not survive, the pigs have expanded their geographic range for over five decades. Moreover, pig density is still increasing in regions that offer quality living conditions and respite from sport hunting. The pigs even populate four of the Channel Islands, although extermination efforts there have resulted in some success.