During the ordeal, she wasn’t sure that these were wild pigs because she’d never heard of any in San Diego. Wells says she got a good look at their distinctiveness: pointy face, root-worthy snout, erect ears, long legs, hairy hide, razor-backed body, russet color, and sinewy tail. The pigs were wary of her and quick to bolt. “They were fast,” she says, and would snort and fake a charge if she got too close.

The next morning two officials, one from the Humane Society and one from Fish and Game, came to her ranch. The two conferred. If the pigs were domestic, the Humane Society would take them away. But since these were wild and a nuisance, the game warden shot them, at close range, in the pen. The “very knowledgeable” warden told her, Wells says, that since the pigs were a male and female, weighing about 125 pounds, his main reason for killing them was to halt their reproduction — more wild pigs would cause even more havoc.

Why did the hogs have to die? I asked Kyle Orr, a spokesperson for Fish and Game. He says that his office issues a depredation (defined: “an attack involving plunder and pillage”) permit, which allows “immediate take” of pigs when they are “damaging or destroying land or property. Relocating them,” Orr says, “only moves the problem somewhere else.” Wild animals, as everyone knows, cannot be domesticated.

Wells’s story is one of several told by backcountry residents who’ve encountered feral hogs during the past year. Jamie Leclair, a Ramona accountant, hit a pair of pigs on Poway Road near the junction with State Route 67. She told the Union-Tribune they were “running together, nose to butt, and the first one went under the truck when I hit it. When I hit the second one, the truck went up on two wheels for a few seconds.” In addition to blood and hair on her tires, her truck needed an alignment.

In Ramona’s feed store, Kahoots, I meet a woman whose father calls me later to say that he’s been watching the Discovery Channel and its show Pig Bomb. One segment, called “Hogzilla,” depicts — in you-are-there re-creation — the stalking and killing of an 800-pounder, Hogzilla he was named, in rural Georgia. Hogzilla would soon be topped by Pigzilla, or “Monster Pig,” which weighed 1051 pounds and was shot by an 11-year-old boy in Alabama. (According to the Berryman Institute’s report “Managing Wild Pigs,” the dirty secret is that such mammoth porkers are raised by pig ranchers, who fatten them in pens and then release the boars for hunters.) “Man, that show just blew me away,” the man says, breathlessly. “How fast and big these pigs are going to get. It’s scary.”

A butcher in Ramona who prefers anonymity tells me that he’s made sausage out of all sorts of animals (but only when he sees a tag that proves it was legally killed). He insists that there have been feral pigs in the San Diego backcountry for years, long before any Russian boars were released on Indian land.

The Department of Fish and Game notes in its “Guide to Hunting Wild Pigs in California” that West Coast wild pigs are a “wild boar/feral domestic pig hybrid.” Since the 1920s, escaped domestic pigs have mated with the European or Russian wild boar. Today, wild pigs, which are not native to North America, exist in 56 of the state’s 58 counties. California is split about 50-50 between private and public land. Pigs that are hunted on public land take refuge in private areas. Hunters, who must buy a pig tag and report a kill, harvest them with rifle, pistol, bow, crossbow, shotgun, and muzzle-loading, or front-loading, gun. During the July to June 2008–2009 count, some 51,625 pig tags were sold and 3838 reports of harvest filed. (About a third of the pigs were shot in Monterey and Kern counties.) In that year, two pigs were shot in San Diego County.

According to several websites run by pig scholars and trackers, Hernando de Sota brought the first pigs to Florida in 1539. Since then, feral hogs have ranged freely throughout the Southeast, having grown excessively in size and number. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that European wild boars were released in North Carolina in 1912 and then in California in 1925.

Captive pigs are bred for their meat. Penned, they grow to two feet tall and weigh between 90 and 260 pounds. Their feral cousins grow to be three feet tall and weigh in between 250 and 500 pounds. The wild boar has a flatter skull and longer legs than its domestic cousin. The upper and lower canines of the male sharpen each other during chewing; they can grow to four inches or more. When males fight over a sow, they use these tusks to scar and bleed their opponent. This is one method by which hogs give themselves away — boars jousting to claim a sow, and the sow’s horror-movie cry to protect her piglets.

I Wouldn’t Be Surprised If They Eat Toads

Undaunted, I’m on a second pig hunt, this time with field biologists Megan Jennings of the Descano Ranger District and Jeff Wells (no relation to Susan Wells) of the Palomar district. It’s a bright morning, and we’re moving single file along a slope toward a crystal-clear cow pond, deep in the Cleveland National Forest. In their piney green slacks and jackets, minus the broad-brimmed hats, Jennings and Wells, both unarmed, are stepping in streams and dodging cow patties in what they call a natural pig habitat: a grassland bowl around a pond with plenty of oaks positioned postcard perfect on the slopes. Leaving the Palomar Ranger District office in Ramona, we bumped down Eagle Peak Road just below the Pine Hills enclave south of Julian. The pigs, so they’ve heard, have made their way up the San Diego River; they’re ranging into this bouldery, hilly terrain, once the Rutherford Ranch, stopping to root in its pristine valleys. We’re looking for signs: hoofprints, wallows (mud holes pigs lie in) and mud rubs on trees, uprooted cattails, and scat.

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Comments

Visduh Aug. 6, 2010 @ 8 p.m.

This is an excellent story. The first part, about the hunting, is right on the mark. Every fall I put myself through a ritual called "deer hunting." The descriptions of the area, the tedium of waiting, and the distant prospect of success are accurate. I'd only have hoped the author had found a local hunter who had, at least, seen a wild pig locally. While there is plenty of evidence that they are in the area, the number of sightings of them rivals the rarity of sightings of Sasquatch. For the past two or three years, my son has bought a pig tag along with his deer tag, but he's seen nothing porcine. The herd will have to grow much larger before sightings of wild porkers become commonplace.

As to his concluding comments, I can only caution that I've "seen" all sorts of wild game that turned out to be something else. There are many instances where I wished antlers onto does that I could see. Only waiting until I was "absolutely, positively" sure kept me from bagging a prohibited animal. Wishful thinking can produce wonderful memories of things that never were there and never happened.

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thestoryteller Aug. 9, 2010 @ 12:55 a.m.

I will boycott this magazine and it's site for a week, due to the killing of pigs.

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itchyrich Oct. 9, 2012 @ 8:09 a.m.

That goes to show what you know about the harvesting of wild animals for poulation control. Do some reading before you make your silly comments!!

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David Dodd Aug. 9, 2010 @ 2:38 a.m.

Why? Near as I can figure out, the magazine nor the site killed any pigs...

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Visduh Aug. 9, 2010 @ 5:16 p.m.

Refried, just keep in mind that the VERY IDEA of hunting or killing is a total turn-off to some folks. thestoryteller is likely one of those folks. Ya' gotta understand.

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David Dodd Aug. 9, 2010 @ 5:54 p.m.

Well, Visduh, ya gotta kill something or you're not gonna eat! I'm not much on hunting, although my father used to when I was young. I love venison to this day. And I can't see a problem with hunting what you're going to consume. Some people don't dig it, and that's understandable, but it isn't the Reader's fault that some people hunt.

Funny story about Tijuana, one morning I went downtown and noticed a new taco stand, Tacos Venados. I went about my business and then came back to that taco stand, "venado" is "deer". I asked for a venison taco and he looked at me like I was nuts, and then he laughed, "No, that's just the name of the taco stand."

I was highly disappointed.

I like to fish. The meat tastes great and what's not edible makes for great fertilizer.

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MsGrant Aug. 9, 2010 @ 6:20 p.m.

There are some who see animals as capable of experiencing something akin to emotion. Animals give birth, fiercely protect their young, and give unconditional love. This is a very nice poem that I happen to love, and that I think describes best how those that feel about this, feel strongly.

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

"The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don't flower, or everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; as Saint Francis put his hand on the creased forehead of the sow, and told her in words and in touch blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, from the earthen snout all the way through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine down through the great broken heart to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow."

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Robert Hagen Aug. 10, 2010 @ 11:54 a.m.

Ms Grant,

Thats a beautiful poem.

Heres the new installment of 'Soccer Mom' at myspace.com/diegonomics:

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&bID=538090404

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Robert Johnston Aug. 12, 2010 @ 2:43 p.m.

Mindy1114-- This may sound crass, but in order for one being to survive, another must die.

Be it animal or plant--one must die to feed another. Even when we die, we feed so many other organisims (such as bacteria, worms, crabs, fish, plankton, bugs, plants), either from the grave, the sea, or in ash form.

I respect your choice of nourishment style (I'm trying to cut out red meat myself, adding more beans, rice, and fish), but that little crack about the kharmic (hoped-for) reincarnation of the "Mexican Caretaker" was uncalled for. I can see the sadism in his method of dispatching the animal-in-question, but leave the "afterlife destiny" speculation for this fellow to his chosen Deity, OK?

Oh, as for the wild pigs in our county? This is a prime example of what happens when a non-native species takes root in it's new environment. Just as with the "snakehead" fish in the Ohio River Valley, the Aisan Carp in the Great Lakes, and the feral Burmese Pythons in Southern Florida (plus the well-known example of rabbits-running-rampant in Austrailia)? They soon become pests that destroy their adopted habitat (and the fauna within).

And all to make a few bucks on hunting rights (or in the case of the pythons, unwanted pets being tossed into the Everglades).

That, in itself, is sadistic...for eventually, we all suffer.

--LPR

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Visduh Aug. 13, 2010 @ 3:45 p.m.

What seems like such a good idea at first can have catastrophic consequences. When humans arrived in what is now called New Zealand, the only mammal there was a tiny bat. The rest of the fauna was birds, including flightless birds that had no predators. A huge bird, now extinct, called the Moa was in some ways like the ostrich and the emu, only larger. The first human arrivals (now known as Maoris) brought, I recall, rats and dogs, the first by accident I suppose and the latter intentionally. But for a long time those species coexisted with the native animals, except for the moa, which the Maoris hunted to extinction. Then Europeans came along, and decided that they needed some things to hunt. First came big rabbits that proliferated to a point of crowding everything else off the islands, so some predators were introduced to hold down the rabbit population. Yeah, weasels and stoats added to the mix. They really like kiwis, and now that national symbol bird is hard to find, endangered, and kept in a few refuges that have no predators.

But the Brits couldn't leave it alone, and introduced domestic sheep, cattle and hogs. To make the hunting even better they added big red deer and some wapiti (elk) to the islands, forever altering the ecology. They had so many deer that they found in recent years that they could farm them along with elk. If you order "venison" in a restaurant here or in Europe chances are that it came from NZ. In a few hundred years those islands went from being a sort of shangri-la for birds to a huge meat and milk factory. And there's no going back to what the islands once were.

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David Dodd Aug. 13, 2010 @ 5:14 p.m.

@ #13: Even when humans do this sort of thing thinking that they're doing some good, it often ends up being bad in the long run.

Hawaii has quite a mongoose problem.

When the first ships began to arrive in the islands, they brought rats, and there were no natural predators for rats, so it wasn't long before Hawaii had a large rat problem. The studied and wise humans who brought the rats felt really bad about it and came up with a solution: They introduces snakes onto the island in order to combat the rat infestation! This worked a little too well. The snakes had no natural predators on the island, and so they not enly enjoyed the rats but also the eggs of many birds that didn't otherwise have any need to over-protect their nests.

In short order, Hawaii had a large snake problem. You can imagine how bad the humans that introduced the snakes to the islands felt, and they thought long and hard to reach a solution in order to combat the snake problem. They introduced the mongoose, that fierce snake-loving rascal (that also eats rats), and so the mongoose has been responsible for the destruction of several native birds and other critters on almost all of the Hawaiian island chain.

To date, Hawaii still has quite a mongoose problem.

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Visduh Aug. 14, 2010 @ 12:39 p.m.

Hawaii was probably as screwed up as New Zealand, maybe more so. Each fix was a worse choice than the thing it was intended to repair. Sad that those birds were exterminated unintentionally in Hawaii. There's also an effect on the flora of those islands. Animals and birds interact in many ways we can only begin to understand. New Zealand is covered with a shrub that has bright yellow blooms, called "Scotch broom." It is aptly named because it is an exotic, having been brought along from Scotland. They'd love to get rid of all of it, but it is so well-established now that is impossible.

So, if these wild pigs in southern California tear up the oak mast, that will result in failure of oaks to regenerate, and the forests will be forever altered here. There's enough going against oaks now, with the borers that are killing them right and left. With limited opportunities to grow seedlings, in a few years, oaks in the mountains may be a rarity instead of a mainstay. So, if anyone needs a reason to want these wild porkers kept under tight control or exterminated, there's one. There are more reasons for that.

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SDLaw Aug. 14, 2010 @ 5:58 p.m.

NICE REPORTING!!

Who knew? Reporters actually getting into the field and researching topics. Hopefully more will follow.

As for the comment about boycotting the site, I will make sure to tell other people about the good reporting and try to offset any negative effects of boycotts.

As for me...I LIKE pork. If we can get some fresh local pork that was naturally raised with no preservatives or hormones, or steroids, or anti-biotics and whoknows what else, I don't see a problem.

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Visduh Aug. 14, 2010 @ 9:48 p.m.

OK, SDLaw, does that mean you are volunteering to assist some hunter in bringing his pig carcass out of some canyon in exchange for some of the meat? Just let these guys know your cell phone number, and you can expect a call soon to assist. That's the essence of "living off the land." Have fun!

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SDLaw Aug. 20, 2010 @ 12:19 a.m.

Visduh - YEP! I would be happy to help haul it out (Old Alice pack frames are good for that - btw). Not crazy about tent camping form more than seven days or "living off the land", but if the population of these pigs is not controlled, things can get out of hand very quickly. I believe pigs can have piglets twice per year and about 10+ each time, with the new pigs able to breed in under two years. Their population has the potential to increase much faster than just doubling every year. Supposedly these pigs are Russian (big ones too) and were bred and released on Tribal land. I fear that once they become more visible it will mean their population has alrady exploded and they can no longer hide at night because they need to find food during the daylight. They shouldn't have been released into the ecosystem here. A large pig population can really throw things out of whack. I'm not sure what predators could control their population. If no predators, then their population grows until they starve and likely starve several other native species along with them. It is not a good situation, something similar happened on Santa Cruz Island. Although the pigs were limited to the small island, they managed to get to a balanced population of over 5,000 pigs. I believe it cost the government about $1,000 per pig to have them removed to restore the island. So, to answer your question, I WOULD help haul some pigs out now, BEFORE they create an ecological mess.

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