Hogs wild in backcountry San Diego Union Tribune

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Hogs wild in backcountry

Feral pigs pose proliferating problem

By Ed Zieralski, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Monday, March 29, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.
A study found that the rooting behavior of feral pigs in California reduces the number and size of oak tree seedlings.




Escaped Russian or wild boars have invaded San Diego's backcountry, causing environmental concerns.


They’ve spooked horses on a Poway ranch and been run over by a truck on Poway Road. They’ve been seen at Lake Cuyamaca and in Alpine, rooting through ice plant. In Ramona, a hunter shot one with a rifle, setting off a run on hunting tags at the local Department of Fish and Game (DFG) regional office.
They are pigs, raised originally as domestic stock in a pen on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation before being released into the wild in late 2006. Now, they’ve gone feral and appear to be spreading across portions of San Diego County, creating a host of conservation challenges.
In a few places in California, feral pigs are part of a thriving hunting industry. But in others, they are environmental and public safety nuisances. At Tejon Ranch near Bakersfield, for example, hunters can barely keep up with a surging population explosion fueled in part by a wet winter and abundant vegetation. At Fort Ord near Monterey Bay, the Bureau of Land Management recently employed a trapping program and captured more than 100 wild pigs.
The pig problem in San Diego County is less clearly defined. No one really knows how many of the animals currently live in the county’s backcountry, or to what extent they may be damaging local ecosystems that aren’t adapted to their presence. No one knows the pigs’ range, how far they might spread. Or the answer to the biggest question of all: Is it too late to do something?
“If what has happened in the rest of the state is any indicator, we need to get this under control or face the results other places have in dealing with damage and problems,” said Rob Hutsel, executive director of the San Diego River Park Foundation. “We need an aggressive policy to get rid of these animals or manage them in a way they don’t impact the county.”
State Fish and Game and federal officials from the U.S. Forest Service met earlier this month in San Diego to discuss the issue and find solutions. “The Forest Service is working on it in a holistic manner because there are deep concerns about (the effects on) landscape and on threatened and endangered species of plants,” said Teri Stewart, a DFG associate wildlife biologist based in San Diego. “The Forest Service has asked that we recommend solutions based on Fish and Game code and statutes.”
Stewart said the chief concern is the fact that wild pigs could negatively impact some of the regeneration projects started after the devastating wild fires in recent years. “We don’t want these pigs in there digging that up,” Stewart said.
The service also is concerned that pigs could impact threatened and endangered species, ruin habitat used by other wildlife and birds and spread diseases that affect people, pets, livestock and other wildlife, particularly endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
Hunting appears to be the preferred management tool where practical and where hunters have access.
“We stressed to the Forest Service that when used appropriately, hunting can reduce impact of these wild pigs,” Stewart said. “But we’re not sure hunting alone will solve the problem. And when state parks have this problem, when their cultural resources and endangered plants are threatened, hunting can’t be used.”
If pigs are found in state parks, which experts say appears inevitable, some sort of government culling program will likely be needed, she said. But until then, DFG officials and the Forest Service districts in Descanso, Palomar and Trabuco will focus on finding good access points into the forest where hunters can find pigs.
While no firm numbers are available, Stewart estimated that 200 to 300 feral pigs are on the loose in the county. Exactly how San Diego came to be home to these animals is murky. In 2006, a source who once saw the hogs in pens on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation was told they were released to establish a hog hunting program. Back then, former Julian-based DFG warden Erick Elliott said he had fielded reports of a possible release of pigs. With the area being the sovereign land of an American Indian reservation, he said there wasnothing the federal or state governments coulddo about it. Tribes set their own game laws.
When The San Diego Union-Tribune first broke news of the wild pigs in 2007, few officials would confirm the animals’ presence. A spokesman for the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation (located next to the El Capitan Reservoir, about 40 miles east of San Diego) denied reports, saying no one had seen or heard about the pigs. That would change as sightings and encounters accumulated.
Doug Updike, the DFG’s senior wildlife biologist who oversees the agency’s programs for wild pigs, bears and mountain lions, said at the time that the release of 20 to 30 Russian hogs would be sufficient to establish a huntable population in San Diego’s backcountry. Updike said wild pigs begin breeding in their first year of life. They can produce up to two litters per year, depending on habitat and water sources. Each litter may have 12 to 15 piglets.
On average, a trophy-sized wild male boar weighs 200 to 300 pounds, with sows at 100 to 200 pounds. In 2007, Updike warned that even an effective hunting program might be problematic since the pigs quickly retreat to areas out of reach of hunters, such as state parks and private lands. As a result, pig incidents have tended to be scattered and unexpected.
For example, a few days after Christmas last year, Susan Wells found a pair of pigs in corrals she rents to horse owners on her Poway ranch. “They were freaking out the horses,” she said. A responding DFG warden shot the pigs.
But the pigs are freaking out more than horses. Hutsel at the San Diego River Park Foundation said hikers have reported finding areas rototilled by pigs. The local chapter of California Native Plant Society is urging public agencies to halt the spread of the pigs.
A study, partly funded by state DFG, examined the effects of wild pigs upon seedling survival in California oak woodlands. The study found reduced acorn survival in areas where pigs roamed compared with fenced plots that kept pigs out. The study also suggested the rooting activities of wild pigs reduces the number and size of oak tree seedlings.
John Massie, a former DFG associate wildlife biologist who oversaw the reintroduction of wild turkeys into San Diego County in the 1990s, has a less negative take on the wild pig situation. Massie contends wild pigs are capable of burying acorns when they step on them, thus setting the table for more oak trees, not fewer, in the future.
Nonetheless, Massie recognizes the larger pig problem. He argues that the DFG has not properly managed the species in other parts of the state. He would like to see more resources put into hunting programs, and advocates development of pig-hunting zones on public and private lands.
Whether more managed pig hunts will help remains to be seen. At Tejon Ranch, game manager Don Geivet has watched the wild pig population explode after pigs escaped from a fenced operation in the Tehachapi mountains. “Believe it or not, it’s not a good thing,” said Geivet. “It’s great for hunters, but not great for the landowners.”
“Our goal is to harvest at least 1,000 pigs per year,” Geivet said. “We don’t always reach that goal, but we are probably averaging around 800 wild pigs a year and are consistently looking for more ways to do more. Bottom line is we cannot kill enough pigs. The beauty of the Tejon Ranch is that it is self-sustaining and goes forever. But these pigs can go a long way, too. We’re barely holding our own.”
 
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Carl

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    Sluester

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    Nice info.

    I didn't see another post about this yesterday?

    By Ed Zieralski, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.
     
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    Saluki

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    Thanks for posting this....... it's a very good read and I didn't see it posted before.
     
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    Kurt

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    I didn't put hog or pig in the title so it wouldn't show on google searches easily.
     
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    Fresh One

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    It may be too late but hunting them out is a joke of a solution. I'd love to have a huntable population in SD as I'm a hunter.

    That said, I don't think pigs in SD is all that good of an idea. We live in a pretty urban area overall and while there is plenty of open space, there are also plenty of people, cars, etc... I just don't see a collaborative existence between the two if the population explodes.

    If they want to get rid of them, they should bait the shit out of areas and start trapping and killing immediately. Maybe even poison the bait. There are plenty of folks in Texas and elsewhere who have experienced the damage of what pigs can do if left unchecked. Fuck around and try to find a nice way to do it and it will be too late. Get it done quick if that is the goal.

    My hunch is that the state will do nothing (which they are good at) or fund some stupid fucking study on the impact of the pigs and we will have a shit pile of moving pork to hunt in about 5 years. All you nice people living in Julian, Cuyamaca, Alpine, Ramona, etc... and have those nice big ranchitas with yards and gardens and landscaping, etc... your yards will look like a bull dozer went though so get ready to buy lots of SOD.
     
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    Turkey Slayer

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    Saw lots of FRESH boar tilling under oak trees a few miles outside Descanso, up Boulder Creek Rd. It was very recent, and lots of it! They should be cruising thru the town of Descanso anytime.... saw a few nice turkeys, but could not close the deal. Dang turkeys!!
     
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    stairman

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    I was reading some historical documents at the julian library and came across some descriptions of there being wild pigs in those hills back in the 1880's.If they are such a threat and so prolific it seems they would have already been here before the release at the the el cap reservation.
     
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    breacher

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    There is a huge potential for the population of pigs in San Diego County to explode into something very overwhelming. I have family in Texas and they absolutely HATE the pigs. They destroy everything and create a huge amount of competition for the other wildlife in the area. The DFG is even concerned about the possibility of a pig explosion.

    I too am a hunter. I have never hunted pig and im sure it would probably be a lot of fun. I am more of a deer hunter though and our San Diego deer herd would only suffer. Our population of deer is already somewhat pathetic. In California we have a lot of hunting opportunities for deer but trophy quality lacks, especially in Southern California. A sow pig can have a litter of 10 pigs compared to a doe having 1 fawn, MAYBE 2.

    I also find it a little funny that guides/outfitters complain if they can't kill their quota of pigs per year. I think guides/outfitters need to weigh the cost vs alternative of having pigs on their land. If they can't meet their quota for pigs killed by hunters that are paying big money, then offer it for free to youth hunters. They could offer unguided hunts with trespass permission if their guiding time is an issue. There are states that are offering free hunts to military personnel. I think Georgia is one of them.

    In my opinion, San Diego doesn't need pigs. The DFG needs to focus on deer management so their yearly reports don't consitently state our deer population is on the decline.........

    Do your own research and see what problems these animals cause. If they aren't strictly managed, it will end up being a freakin mess.
     
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