Hunters receive $2 for each tail they collect during competition

Hays County has until Dec. 31 to collect feral hog tails in a competition that could net the county $20,000 for helping reduce the population of the animal.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that feral hogs cause $500 million worth of damage in Texas each year. To mitigate these damages, the Texas Department of Agriculture created the Hog Out County Grants Program.

This year 28 counties are participating in the grant program. Plum Creek Watershed Coordinator Nick Dornak said several businesses in Hays and Caldwell counties are offering about $1,000 in prizes to the hunter who collects the most tails.

"When I heard about this program that the Department of Agriculture has been doing for the last few years called the Hog Out County Grants Program, I thought it would be a really good way to possibly get some future funding for feral hog eradication efforts that the county could sponsor," Dornak said.

The program has two components: the bounty portion, which pays hunters $2 for every feral hog tail turned in, and an outreach program that is intended to educate farmers about how to handle the animals.

Each hog tail counts for half a point, and each hour spent in an educational unit counts for one point. The county with the most points on Jan. 1 will win the $20,000 first prize. Second prize is $15,000, and third prize is $10,000.

Plum Creek Watershed education coordinator Jared Timmons said feral hogs are responsible for damages to suburban and rural property, destruction of crops and the killing of livestock.

"It's a long list," Timmons said. "There's a potential for disease transmission between them and us, and them and livestock because of the bacteria they carry."

Feral hogs have also been identified as a major contributor to the high levels of E. coli in Plum Creek, a 52-mile stream that rises from north Hays County and discharges into the San Marcos River near the Caldwell County-Gonzales County line.

The San Marcos River provides drinking water to residents of Luling through the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality categorizes the creek's use as "contact recreation," which means E. coli levels cannot exceed 126 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water.

Dornak said it is not unusual for certain sampling points in the watershed to test twice as high as the creek's designated use allows. He said the Plum Creek Watershed is a "poster child" for watershed protection, and the hog bounties are an important aspect of keeping the watershed safe. The watershed's efforts are voluntary and are intended to prevent future regulations from the TCEQ.

"Feral hogs are a menace everywhere, and they're a menace all over Hays County, so a lot of other watersheds can [also] benefit from this feral hog program," he said.

The 2.6 million feral hogs in the state account for half the population in the entire nation, Timmons said. According to estimates by Texas A&M University researchers, the annual extermination rate must be 66 percent for the population to remain stable.

"We're at 29 percent [extermination rate] right now, which will cause [the population] to double within five years, so there is potential for Texas to have a population of 5 [million] or 6 million in five years," Timmons said.

Timmons will offer several free classes on feral hog control from noon–1 p.m. Nov. 20, and Dec. 11 and 18 at the Texas AgriLife Extension Office in San Marcos.