The Rampaging Pigs of the San Francisco Bay Area

MORAGA, California – San Francisco Bay Area residents are doing their best to satisfy the wealth of wildlife around them.

A sign at a playground in Moraga, a 35-minute drive from San Francisco, advises parents that rattlesnakes are “important members of the natural community” and give the snakes “respect.”

Across the bay in the suburb of Burlingame, San Francisco, an animal shelter has rescued a family of stink bugs from a bougainvillea, a chameleon of power lines and returned 100 baby squirrels to health that escaped from them nest drums after their trees have been cut down.

With the exception of the occasional aggressive coyote, the animals that roam the hills and creeks of the Bay Area – turkeys, mountain lions, deer, bobcats, foxes and the rest of Noah’s true Ark – find themselves on some laissez -fair terms with the people around them.

Not so for the rampant feral barges. They scrape lawns, rip through golf courses, threaten drinking water and disrupt the harvests at Napa vineyards. Many Californians want them dead.

“They’re a plague to just about anyone and everything,” said Eric Sklar, a member of the California Fish and Game Commission, who helped write a bill that was introduced into state law last week that would make it easier. for hunters to kill feral barges. “They are very, very destructive.”

For decades, feral pigs, armed with their knife-sharp fangs sticking out of snout mouths, have hauled fields of corn, peanuts and cotton in broad areas of Texas and the south, causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to raise $ 2 , 5 billion in damage each year.

A military fighter jet was destroyed several decades ago after a collision with two wild barges on a runway in Florida. Weighing hundreds of kilos, they can be extremely dangerous and in rare cases they have attacked and killed people.

Now, in what one federal official called a “wild boar bomb,” the barge states threaten north and west. Some progress has been made: New York, New Jersey and Maine have eliminated their feral pig populations, according to Michael Marlow, the acting program manager of the Federal Government’s National Feral Swine Damage Management Program. But at least 30 states still have populations of wild pigs, he said.

In California, 56 of the state’s 58 counties have wild barges. The pigs are taking an increasing economic toll in Lafayette, a suburb in the East Bay, where the pig’s invasion seems most acute. Before the pandemic, the city shot out $ 110,000 when barges, rooted for larvae, football and baseball fields like a rototiller. The Park and Recreation Department puts gates around the fields and keeps a trapper on contract to catch and kill the barges. Recently, neighbors have woken up to find their lawns in clumsy piles of sod and dirt.

The head of the department, Jonathan “Ace” Katayanagi, said walkers have reported a few close conversations with wild barges, usually as dogs without leashes chasing them. When confronted with angry pigs, people would have to stand on top of a car or climb a tree, he advises. “Pigs can’t climb,” he said.

Nearby, and more potentially serious, are the hundreds of barges that have invaded the creek beds that feed the San Leandro Reservoir, which at times supplies drinking water to Oakland, Piedmont, Alameda, Hayward and other East Bay cities.

Swine can harbor dozens of diseases including E. coli, leptospirosis, giardia, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella. Officials are worried that the water supply could be polluted.

Andrea Pook, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which manages the water system, said her processes “filter and disinfect every drop.”

But not all pathogens can be caught in filtration, said Bert Mulchaey, the utility biologist for the utility.

“We do not allow people to have direct body contact with the reservoir,” he said. said Mulchaey. “We absolutely do not want barges in there.”

The utility district spends $ 50,000 a year on capturing barges that are killed with a firearm. But they keep coming, and in greater numbers. The district catches and slaughters an average of 60 to 70 barges a year. Last year, it broke a record 226 barges, including 47 over the past two weeks.

In addition to the potential pollution of the water, the non-native barges in North America robbed the native wild of acorns and other herbs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are 6 million feral barges in the United States. They are often hybrids of domestic barges brought by European explorers five centuries ago and Eurasian or Russian wild boar imported in the 1900s for sport hunting.

“The combination made it a super invader,” said Mr. Marlow of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program.

Fierce, productive and highly adaptable, the hybrid swine, like its domesticated cousins, can run into the hundreds of pounds, including the 800-pound “Hogzilla” shot by a Georgia fighter in 2004.

The California legislation introduced on Jan. 19 by Bill Dodd, a state senator, would remove a requirement that hunters buy a “tag” of $ 25, the legal right to hunt one pig.

“Throughout the year, you will be able to hunt as many barges as you want,” said Mr. Clear, the Commissioner for Fish and Wildlife. Some experts believe that the swine, clever and somewhat nomadic, will move to areas where hunting is not allowed.

In Lafayette, the task of swine flu falls on Chris Davies, a licensed trapper with a vice-grip handshake and whose family has lived and hunted in the area since the 1880s. Mr. Davies’ father is a former hunting guide and tells the story of a fellow guide who was killed by a feral bear in the 1970s.

“They are super aggressive and pretty mean,” said Mr. Davies said about the barges he catches. “I never met anyone who liked me.”

He invented a bait on corn, which he threw into a solid metal-encrusted coral with cameras, a motion detector and a cellular connection. When the barges come into the pub, almost always at night, Mr. Davies is warned on his phone. He sees and closes the gate of the fence at a distance when the whole group, or seder, is inside.

Then he and his wife, Annie, carry their two sleeping children behind on their pickup truck. They drive through the darkened suburban streets to the fence and shoot the barges. “They go down like a sack of potatoes,” he said.

Among animal rights and conservation groups, Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, who describes himself as fiercely nonviolent, said his group was “totally opposed” to killing barges, which he likened to killing dogs. a cat.

But more typical is the nuanced view of Brendan Cummings, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that focuses on the conservation of wildlife and endangered species.

“We’re talking about individual live animals that we need to treat as ethically as possible,” he said. said Cummings. But at the same time, he is not against killing or hunting barges in places where they, as an invasive species, harm the environment.

The only times Mr. Cummings went hunting for wild boar, in part because the barges kill the purple amol, an endangered purple flower that grows in central California.

“I would prefer a California where we did not have wild barges,” he said, adding that reintroducing jaguars into California could help reduce wild barge populations.

In the Bay Area, where residents are more likely to see thousand-dollar mountain bikes than their latest hunting rifle, Mr. Davies, the pig trapper, realizes that some residents are being put off by his profession.

“I think there are a lot of people who think, ‘That boy is a psychopath, he likes to kill barges,'” he said. said Davies. “I do not like killing them. But they do are terrible beasts. “

Mr. Davies distributes the dead hogs to local residents who cut them into pork chops and sausages.

Jenni Smith, the assistant pasture manager at Moraga Horsemen’s Association, a local equestrian club, said she is grateful the barges are being caught. Last year, the sweat swept up the horse trail.

“They’re pretty destructive,” she said.

Mar Ms. Smith is not so sure about eating the finished barges.

“Honestly,” she said, “when someone said to me, ‘Do you want a carcass of the bark?’ I would be, what? No, I’m going to Safeway, thank you.

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