Feral hogs move closer to city
The red strips of caution tape tied to Jairo Garcia's fence weren't there to serve as decoration.
Instead, the plastic ribbons fluttering in the breeze were a remnant of a battle waged in Victoria's Woodway subdivision.
Residents say feral hogs recently ravaged some backyards - mainly those where yards butt up against a neighborhood creek - digging holes, gnawing on plants and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
"It was frustrating. They caused so much damage, and they kept returning," said Garcia, who has called the neighborhood home for about seven years but never before had trouble. "My neighbor still has holes in his yard."
And wildlife experts say the pig problem isn't unique. Hog populations are increasingly finding their way into city limits.
Feral hogs have been a problem for years, but the population exploded about a decade back, said Peter McGuill, extension agent for Victoria County's Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service.
He said the animals have, on average, 2.5 litters per year with an average of six pigs per litter. They begin breeding at 6 months old.
"It doesn't take long to have multiple generations in one group of hogs," McGuill said.
There is no way to estimate how many hogs call the Crossroads home.
That growth, combined with the ongoing drought, has pushed populations closer to town as they search for food sources, he said.
McGuill encouraged those who encounter hogs in their yards to avoid trapping or cornering the animals.
"They can be very dangerous," he said. "Watch out for small pets and children."
The Lone Star State has liberal hunting regulations when it comes to the animals, said Trent Teinert, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. All a person needs is a hunting license.
"There's no set season, and you can use any means and methods," he said, noting that includes trapping, using dogs, aerial gunning via helicopter and more. "You name it, you can pretty much use it to control feral pigs."
Calls to Teinert's office about hogs causing damage in yards and subdivisions have increased, he said, and it's areas on the outskirts of town - near the animals' natural habitat - that seem to experience the most damage.
Vehicle collisions with feral hogs are also common.
For years, DeWitt County has worked to lower the hog population through its annual South Texas Wild Hog Hunting Contest, said Anthony Netardus, extension agent with the county's extension service.
Throughout the weekend-long contest - this February marks the 20th - hunters bring in the three heaviest hogs they've killed or trapped anywhere in Texas, with prizes going to those with the biggest catches.
Netardus said he estimates the contest eliminates between 800 and 1,000 hogs per year. Still, Texas plays home to millions of the animals.
"We know that's probably a drop in the bucket, as far as wild hogs go in Texas," he said. "Some local farmers and ranchers say we need to do this once a weekend."
In Woodway, up-and-coming business K Bar Ag Service, a feral hog holding and disposal company, took the reins, said Brian Koenig, the company's buying agent. K Bar first set up traps to catch the animals but, when that didn't work, marked off areas with tape and hunted them down with dogs.
That initial hunt resulted in two hogs caught, he said, while subsequent trips took seven more out of the neighborhood.
Koenig said it feels good to know he's helping to make a difference.
"That's the main reason we started this," said Koenig, who noted Crossroads residents in other areas have contacted him about hog control. "We wanted to do something about the hogs."
As for Garcia, he said he's glad to have the brunt of the problem behind him.
Before K Bar arrived, he said, he purchased his own trap and baited it with corn and other foods in hopes of putting an end to the damage. Still, he never made a catch.
His backyard is now healing - some of his neighbors received much more damage than he did, he said - and the animals have become less prevalent.
"There are still some small ones around now. You see a few babies," he said. "But things are much better than they were."