Wild Pig problem in the SF Bay Area

Backcountry

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I don't think bowhunting was mentioned as an option once in this article. Until the dummies are willing to entertain that bowhunting is a viable option for inclusion in a multifacted non-native species control program, they can swim in hogs for all I care.

Backcountry

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c...BAG2F88OHN1.DTL

Special problems -- hogs, red foxes
Wilderness amid a sea of human development


The green slopes looked like they had been tilled by a farmer who sorely needed his medication adjusted: Hundreds of square yards of thick turf had been haphazardly gouged, uprooted and overturned, exposing the raw earth beneath.

"Hogs," drawled East Bay Regional Parks District wildlife program manager Joe DiDonato. "Wild hogs. They'll tear up entire hillsides looking for tubers and grubs. We have hundreds of them here, maybe thousands. And they're a constant problem. Ideally, we'd like to eliminate them -- but that's not possible. So we just try to achieve a certain degree of control."

Wild hogs are not native to the East Bay. The region's robust populations are a genetic amalgam of domestic swine gone feral and truly wild eastern European hogs imported decades ago by now defunct hunt clubs. These rustic hybrids are fecund, wily, hardy -- and voracious. A wild hog will eat anything it can cram down its gullet, and happily tear up an entire ecosystem for a single toothsome acorn or plump earthworm.

Controlling hogs and other nonnative animals is a challenge for DiDonato and his staff. The district's 100,000 acres constitute a vast chunk of wildland, one that burgeons with wildlife of all varieties.

District lands support some of the densest concentrations of raptors in the United States. They are home to 17 endangered or threatened animal and plant species.

Take a walk in the Ohlone or Sunol wildernesses -- or Las Trampas wilderness, or even Tilden or Briones parks -- and you could see a bobcat, coyote, badger or gray fox. Perhaps, if you're quiet and lucky enough, a cougar. You'll probably spot a black-tailed deer or wild turkey, and you will most certainly see some rare and lovely birds of prey: golden eagles, peregrine or prairie falcons, perhaps a ferruginous hawk.

But blessed as they may be with a rich variety of wild critters, district lands are also sharply circumscribed by urban development. Forty or 50 pigs --

let alone a few thousand -- can erode hillsides, foul water sources, chow down on endangered amphibians and consume forage required by native species.

DiDonato drove slowly along a ridgeline in the Ohlone Wilderness, a 4,000- acre tract of heavily wooded hills and gorges along Alameda Creek. Near a fence line was a curious construction: a large frame box of structural steel and wire.

"That's a hog trap, and a very effective one," he said. "We contract with a professional trapper. He and his sons are working these hills constantly, setting out traps wherever they see hog activity."

All captured hogs are killed. At one time, the district was able to donate the meat to local rest homes and other institutions, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stopped that program because the carcasses weren't subject to federal inspection.

At times, district biologists must also thin herds of black-tailed deer. Like pigs, they can expand in numbers beyond the carrying capacity of the available range. Such cullings, DiDonato acknowledged, are controversial in the East Bay, where animal rights are among the top public issues.

"But the fact is that we have to take an ecosystem approach with district properties," DiDonato said. "If certain animals expand at the expense of endangered species or the general environment, we must take remedial measures."

That also applies at the Hayward Shoreline, where the district and local municipalities are restoring about 1,600 acres of wetland habitat. The shoreline is a combination of both freshwater and salt marsh, and teems with birds.

Among the scores of species that permanently reside or migrate through the marshes is the California clapper rail, a reclusive wading bird that is listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The rail has staged a resurgence in recent years, primarily because of a variety of marsh rehabilitation projects, such as those underway at the Hayward Shoreline.

But the rail has a dire enemy at the shoreline -- something DiDonato has been combatting with only mixed success.

"Eastern red foxes showed up in the Bay Area in the 1980s," DiDonato said. "We don't really know how they got here, but they've given us tremendous grief from the beginning."

That's because eastern red foxes are devastatingly good at what they do: predation. They are larger and more aggressive than the rather demure indigenous gray foxes and have been supplanting them whenever the two species come in contact.

Worse, they're implacable when it comes to gobbling clapper rails.

"Gray foxes generally won't venture out onto the tidal flats where the clapper rails breed and forage," DiDonato said, "but the eastern reds aren't at all afraid of getting wet. So wherever they get established, the rails just disappear."

Red foxes can be controlled fairly easily with leg-hold traps -- but California outlawed the use of these devices in the 1990s.

"That really narrowed our options," DiDonato said. "We can use box traps, and we can shoot them. But they're extremely wary of box traps, and we can only shoot them in certain situations -- early in the morning or at dusk, when the risk to the public is nil. Plus, they're very smart, so we don't get many opportunities for a shot."

The problem posed by the pigs and foxes emphasizes a salient fact about district lands, DiDonato observed: They are beautiful, they have the semblance of the truly wild, but they are properties that have been subjected to human impacts for 200 years; they are islands surrounded by intense development. And despite their appearance, they have been deeply altered from their original state.

"Given the fact that they have been so manipulated, they must be actively managed if we want them to support significant and varied wildlife populations, " DiDonato said. "We can't just let things slide and expect nature to work it out. In these lands, nature needs an active helping hand."

Cows are another sticky issue for the park district. But unlike pigs, DiDonato is all for the bovines. He acknowledges that some environmentalists are opposed to local ranchers running cattle in the parks, but he insists the livestock are a force for good because they gnaw down the heavy thatch of grasses that covers the hills each spring.

"From a public safety standpoint, grazing mitigates fire danger," DiDonato said. "And if we didn't keep the grass down, we wouldn't have the incredible wildflower displays we see each year. When push comes to shove, grasses crowd out wildflowers."

And from a wildlife management perspective, DiDonato said, cattle are a great tool for maintaining biological diversity. He pointed to a number of dun- colored rodents perched on a rock outcropping: Beechey's ground squirrels.

"They're fantastically abundant on district lands, and they need short grass to thrive," DiDonato said. "The ground squirrels are really a keystone species for us. They're the main prey item for most of our predators, and their burrows provide homes for a wide range of fauna, including several endangered species."

Also, he said, ranchers have constructed myriad small ponds for their cattle across district property -- a boon for wildlife.

DiDonato hiked down to one such pond and pointed out small gelatinous spheres attached to sedges in the water.

"Tiger salamander eggs," he said. "They're an endangered species. The adults live in ground squirrel burrows and spawn in these ponds. So without the cattle, we'd have a lot fewer salamanders around. Endangered red-legged frogs also spawn in the ponds. And during the summer, the ponds serve as primary water sources for many of our properties, benefiting all species of wildlife."

Cattle are simply performing the grass-reduction function that was once accomplished by large herds of grazing tule elk -- as well as California's natives, who periodically burned the land to keep it open for hunting and to discourage the growth of brush, he said.

"Low-level fires ultimately produced better forage for the game and favored the growth of large oaks -- which natives valued for the acorns -- over brush and conifers," DiDonato said. "We can't burn to the degree they did because of the danger to homes and the considerable expense, so cattle are a good substitute."

As if complex animal dynamics weren't enough, DiDonato and his staffers also must deal with a wide range of other issues: poachers, fisheries management, access to sensitive areas, removal of exotic plants, the occasional cougar popping up in a suburb.

It's a never-ending cascade of challenges, and it sometimes becomes overwhelming.

"But what makes it all worthwhile is getting out in the field and simply seeing what's there," DiDonato said. "I can't think of another part of the country that has anything comparable -- these big tracts of open space with thriving populations of wildlife, right in the middle of a huge urban complex. It's really remarkable."
 

Backcountry

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This is prime pig habitat and would be beautiful land to hunt!

 

PIGIG

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It hard to believe we employ these idiots
with our tax dollars! Hell I would gladly go up there and gnaw down the grass my self not bother the squirrels go up to my sisters house and scrape up a few hundred red legged frogs (before they die in the pool from the chlorine of course) take out a few red foxes. Put a tarp over the pig traps in case bad weather sets in (might need dry shelter) enjoy the wild flowers but I would not poop or pee in the water as the bovine do and I would gladly fill every persons freezer I knew for free
and take their problem away


pigig
 

easymoney

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Backcountry,
Interesting post to say the least. But, I'm not surprised at the info therein... The area is home to some of the most liberal and whiney politicans known to suck air, not to mention the vast population of tree huggers. They can whine all they want , but they will NEVER allow hunting even with a bow.
"It's a never ending cascade of challenges"... Isn't that why they have the job they do, to deal with those challenges?
 

scr83jp

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Are they siphoning off ammo taxes and license fee revenues to support a no hunting area?
 

PIGIG

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Originally posted by Backcountry@Aug 16 2004, 07:05 AM
This is prime pig habitat and would be beautiful land to hunt!

oohh ooohhh i am have a sonoma flashback
 

Shot

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Here is one perfect example of why I get mad about the $15 pig tag.

Maybe they can use some of the money to set up some type of hunt for us............................................................wait I must be dreaming!
 

PIGIG

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Originally posted by Shot@Sep 8 2004, 04:01 PM
Here is one perfect example of why I get mad about the $15 pig tag.

Maybe they can use some of the money to set up some type of hunt for us............................................................wait I must be dreaming!
 
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