|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2007-03-13                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
March 13, 2007
Feral Hogs No Longer Just a Rural Concern
AUSTIN, Texas -- Problems with exotic, invasive plants and animals--species that did not evolve in Texas and don't belong here--continue to worsen statewide. One escalating issue involves feral hogs, which have been a problem for decades on rural ranch land, but in recent years have begun to cause damage in cities.
Some urban parks and preserves, including Armand Bayou Nature Center near Houston and the Forth Worth Nature Center and Refuge, have had to trap and remove feral hogs. Some residential areas are also reporting hog problems. This winter, animal control workers were called to the LakeRidge neighborhood in southwest Lubbock after residents complained of a wild hog strolling through the golf course.
Hog problems have declined in recent years at Armand Bayou in Pasadena, probably because nature center fencing helps keep new hogs from coming in, and because they've trapped problem pigs in past years. But just outside the nature center fence, it's a different story.
"We've had a tremendous development boom in the area around us, with new houses, buildings, and industry," said Mark Kramer, Armand Bayou stewardship coordinator. "As a result, a lot of wildlife habitat loss is taking place around the nature center. We have a six foot chain link fence around the perimeter, which helps limit hog immigration to our site. However, surrounding neighborhoods in the past few years have made the six o'clock news because of hog damage in the yards of expensive new homes."
The Fort Worth Nature Center's hog management program was highlighted at a recent urban wildlife conference in Dallas, where it was hailed as a national model for building consensus and controlling nuisance wildlife effectively and humanely. The 3,621-acre refuge, said to be largest city-owned nature center in the nation, includes forest, prairie and Trinity River bottomland habitat, all inside the city limits.
"Feral hogs can root several feet into soft soil, eating invertebrates and the bulbs and rhizomes of plants, so they're having negative effect on the plant community as well as wildlife," said Rob Denkhaus, natural resource manager for the city-operated Fort Worth Nature Center.
"They can be predators on some wildlife species such as ground-nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians and the like," Denkhaus said. "So their impact is far-reaching, and all negative."
Rick Taylor, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist in Uvalde and author of the booklet "The Feral Hog in Texas," would agree.
"Feral hog activity can destabilize wetland areas, springs, and creeks by excessive rooting for food, trampling and wallowing," Taylor said. "In addition to wetland habitat destruction and alteration, hogs can damage trees. While not active predators, wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats. If the opportunity arises, they may also destroy or consume eggs of ground nesting birds, such as turkeys and quail."
Taylor says early Spanish explorers probably were the first to introduce feral hogs (Sus scrofa) in Texas more than 300 years ago. In the 1930s, European wild hogs or "Russian boars" were first introduced to Texas by ranchers and sportsmen for sport hunting. Most of these eventually escaped from game ranches and began free ranging and breeding with feral hogs. Because of this crossbreeding, there are very few, if any, true European hogs remaining in Texas.
A mature feral hog may reach a shoulder height of 36 inches and weigh from 100 to more than 400 pounds. Feral hogs are true pigs, but native javelinas belong to a separate family of mammals. Javelinas are smaller, have an unnoticeable tail, a grizzled-grayish coat with a white band of hair around the shoulder or "collar," and are more social or herd-like animals. Although feral hogs and javelinas inhabit the same range, they are not compatible. No exact numbers exist, but wildlife biologists estimate there are more than 1.5 million feral hogs in Texas.
Feral hogs are unprotected, exotic, non-game animals which may be taken by any legal*
means or methods at any time of year. There are no seasons or bag limits. The only requirements to hunt them are a valid Texas hunting license and landowner permission. In most cities, local ordinances make it illegal to discharge firearms, and public attitudes and safety concerns make hog control more complicated.
Such was the case at the Fort Worth Nature Center, which began noticing a growing hog problem around the year 2000.
"When we first saw rooting in sandy soil, we thought it was coyotes following pocket gopher burrows," Denkhaus said. "But eventually we started seeing hogs every day, including a couple of troubling encounters between people and hogs. We saw more and more environmental damage, particularly in wetland and bottomland hardwood areas."
The nature center staff and supporters realized something had to be done. But an urban nature center is not like a rural ranch. The idea of trapping and killing hogs generated some controversy. Denkhaus and a team of others went through a long process that ended up taking two years, but eventually they developed an approach that all stakeholders could live with.
"Hog control is not rocket science," Denkhaus said. "It means lethally removing hogs from the area. We wanted to do it in the most humane way possible that would allow the animal welfare community to accept it, and we also wanted it done safely."
Pigs are nocturnal so they usually get into nature center traps overnight, and the staff checks them at first light, minimizing the time animals spend in the live traps. To minimize stress on the animals, from the moment workers approach them, Denkhaus says it takes an average of just four minutes to dispatch all animals in the trap.
Disposing of the carcasses turned out to be another issue. Many people would have loved to see the meat go to needy organizations such as homeless shelters, but the nature center ultimately chose to leave the carcasses on site.
"The pigs, as uninvited visitors to the refuge, have been using the natural resources since they got there," Denkhaus said. "So we're putting the natural resources back into the natural system, and we're also avoiding potential problems and liability for the city with disease transmission from the meat. They decay on site, which means we're feeding our scavengers, our decomposer groups, we're building new soil through the nutrients going through, and you can even see some changes in the plant community there. It'd be similar probably to the time when herds of bison came through and you had a one ton bison dropping and decomposing in place."
Since the program began, Denkhaus says environmental damage at the refuge has decreased significantly, proof that the hog control program is working.
The Fort Worth story illustrates what is believed to be a growing problem.
"I have other communities calling, asking how we did it, which tells me other people are having the same problem," Denkhaus said. "Feral hogs are spreading just as the human population is spreading, so it's only natural that the two populations are going to collide. Anywhere you have a river bottom type corridor coming into a city, you're going to have the opportunity for pigs to be following it right into town."
Taylor's booklet "The Feral Hog in Texas" is geared primarily to rural settings, but it features a wealth of general information describing feral hogs and control practices, including specifications for building and deploying traps. An online version of the booklet resides on the TPWD Web site, where it can be viewed as HTML Web pages or downloaded and printed in .pdf format.
* Correction, March 15, 2007: The original version of this news release omitted the word "legal" from this sentence. (Return to corrected item.)
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [SB]
[ Additional Contacts: Sarah Bibbs 512-389-4577, sarah.bibbs@tpwd.texas.gov; Tom Harvey 512-389-4453, tom.harve@tpwd.texas.gov ]
March 13, 2007
Houston Holds Annual Land Management Workshop
HOUSTON -- Because the future of Texas' wildlife and habitat conservation ultimately resides in the choices of private land-owning citizens, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Cooperative Extension and the Gulf Coast and Heartwood chapters of the Texas Master Naturalists are sponsoring the "Managing Your Land for Wildlife Workshop," Saturday, March 24 in Houston.
"The workshop is geared toward landowners to help them meet their goals for their property," said Keith Crenshaw, a Harris County urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. "Anyone with land, or the desire to purchase property later, who cares about wildlife and good land management should come."
The workshop will start at 9 a.m. at the Texas Cooperative Extension Office at 3303 Bear Creek Drive. The morning's first presentation will educate attendees on the effects of pesticides in the environment, and a 45-minute talk on establishing wildlife cooperatives for habitat enhancement and management will follow. The workshop's afternoon program includes presentations on wildlife watering facilities, planting seasons and how to make money through hunting leases.
This is the second of two workshops held annually in Houston to better educate landowners. Approximately 100 people attended the first workshop, "Practical First Steps," held in early February. Participants learned how to qualify their land for a wildlife tax valuation, how to evaluate wildlife habitat quality and how to write a wildlife/habitat management plan.
Both workshops are intended to assist the growing number of city-dwelling residents who are buying rural land. Whether for retirement or simply to have a place outside the bustle of the city, those who purchase land in the great outdoors may not necessarily know how to best care for it.
"By attending these workshops, we hope landowners will find a tool or a management style that helps them properly care for their land," said Crenshaw.
Pre-registration for the "Managing Your Land for Wildlife Workshop" is required. A $20.00 fee per person includes all workshop materials and lunch. For more information call 281-456-7029.
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[ Note: This item is more than 10 years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [TH]
March 13, 2007
Mostly Good News for Monarch Spring Migration
AUSTIN, Texas -- Millions of monarch butterflies have begun their annual spring migration north into Texas, and entomologists say it's mostly good news this year. All the monarchs in North America east of the Rocky Mountains winter in one mountainous region of central Mexico, where monarch numbers dropped alarmingly due to a severe snow storm in 2004. Scientists say monarch numbers in this region now appear to have bounced back to approximately 300 million butterflies.
While thousands of monarchs can be seen concentrated in a single time and place during the fall migration in Texas, the spring migration, by contrast, is a more dispersed and drawn out affair lasting nearly two months. Generally, observations of less than 20 monarchs are reported for any one time and location in the spring.
As with many native wildlife species, plants and habitat types hold the key to whether people will see monarchs.
"Native milkweed plants that the monarchs will seek out for egg laying include green milkweed (Asclepias viridis), Zizotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides), and antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)," said Mike Quinn, an entomologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who added that native flowering species like Texas mountain laurel are a favored nectar source for the returning butteries.
Scientists with the Monarch Watch international research and conservation venture report that on Feb. 27 it was apparent the butterflies were leaving Mexico. Until late March, the overwintering generation will be moving through Texas. The next leg of the migration will then be taken up by the first spring generation moving through Texas in April.
"Part of the good news this year is the monarchs are in great shape," said Chip Taylor with the University of Kansas, where Monarch Watch is based. "The proportion of monarchs with tattered wings and low fat reserves appears to be low. The winter was mild and the result seems to be that those surviving the winter are well prepared for the 600 or so miles they need to travel to reach the milkweed areas of Texas. The peak of returning monarchs is usually sighted in Texas after March 15."
Taylor said more good news is that scientists were able to purchase more than 500 tags to track butterfly movements, and it appears they have finally recovered most of the tags that were being held by residents of the Mexico protected butterfly reserve after the massive winter kills of 2002 and 2004. Monarch Watch recently offered a 50 peso reward for each tag turned in, which greatly increased the number of tags recovered, but strained the organization's budget in the process.
Taylor said when scientists and volunteers arrived in Mexico this year, President Felipe Calderón held a meeting at which he announced a "zero tolerance" policy for illegal logging together with a Conservation Development Strategy for the state of Michoacan. In spite of Mexican efforts, Taylor said some illegal logging continues within the 56,000-hectare Monarch Biosphere Reserve, including sites previously occupied by butterflies. Officials hope economic development programs will enable loggers to transition to legal income-producing activities and help prevent illegal logging that is reducing the butterfly's wintering habitat.
More information, including video and photos of monarch butterflies in Mexico, can be found on the Monarch Watch Web site.
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