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Hog Wild

September, 2002

WILDLIFE The Fort Worth Nature Center is correctly addressing a serious porcine problem.

Editorial: The mere thought is unpleasant and disturbing.

The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge - the largest city-owned nature center in the United States, and a haven for wildlife - soon will be killing animals on its 3,600-acre property.

Unpleasant and disturbing, yes. But also apparently necessary.

The target will be feral hogs that pose a threat to the center's vegetation, wildlife and even to human visitors and their pets.

Nature Center supervisor Wayne Clark estimates that "more than 100 and maybe more than 300" of the hogs are roaming the center, creating havoc and growing in number.

The wild pigs are competing with other animals for available food, damaging vegetation and digging deep holes. One hog recently attacked a visitor's dog and seriously injured it by ripping the canines' belly open with its tusks, Clark said.

The center staff plans to trap the animals by humane methods and then kill them instantaneously with a single shot from a large-bore rifle.

Given the circumstances, that's an appropriate plan.

The omnivorous hogs are powerful animals that often weigh between 100 and 150 pounds and sometimes top 300 pounds. Their tusks and teeth are lethal weapons. Remains of small deer, sheep, goats and armadillos have been found in the stomachs of feral hogs in various locales.

Known as primarily nocturnal, wary and secretive, the hogs are descendants of domesticated pigs brought over by Spanish explorers and others. The hogs should not be confused with javelinas native to South Texas brush country.

The center staff did considerable research and talked to various experts before concluding that trapping and shooting the hogs was the best solution.

Other options, such as a suggestion by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that the hogs be sterilized, were not practical.

If the hogs were sterilized, they still would be a threat to the center's vegetation, wildlife and visitors until the day the die, Clark said the pigs typically live eight to 10 years. A single sow may bear up to two dozen piglets in a year.

It may take the small center staff two years or more to significantly reduce the hog population.

The hogs are hunted throughout much of Texas and are considered tasty if prepared correctly. But their population, by some estimates, has mushroomed to 1.5 million or more statewide, and they have become a scourge to farmers, ranchers and homeowners.

The hogs are not indigenous to the nature center, which is located off the Jacksboro Highway and envelopes a large northern finger of Lake Worth.

As former Fort Worth City council member and center advocate Bill Meadows points out, the facility's primary goal is "to preserve and nurture what is natural in this area - the indigenous plants and animals."

The center is a Fort Worth treasure that must be preserved in its predominantly natural state. Open to the public seven days a week at no charge, it's a great place for hikers, bird watchers and nature lovers to enjoy a tranquil escape from the city.

It includes forest, savanna, river marshes, picturesque limestone ledges and 25 miles of hiking trails.

Its wildlife include bison, deer, wild turkey, bobcats, coyotes, beavers, raccoons, prairie dogs, and snakes, plus an occasional alligator or bald eagle.

About 200 species of migratory birds pass through each year, and there are more than 1,000 plant species.

The nature center probably will never by completely rid of feral hogs. But the center staff now has an effective plan to reduce the numbers as much as possible.

Star-Telegram

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