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Wild Pig Population Blooming In San Diego River Watershed

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted today to have staffers look at ways of getting rid of an estimated 150 wild pigs countywide.

Feral pigs are not native to the area. The rooting creatures can tear up oak seedlings and crops, pollute streams and spread diseases. The progenitors of the local population are believed to be a Russian variety of pig that was released in the San Diego River watershed about four years ago by someone raising them on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation.

Most of the pigs have been found on publicly owned land managed by the Cleveland National Forest, California State Parks, The San Diego Public Utilities District and the Barona and Viejas tribal reservations. Some hunters and wildlife experts have put the San Diego County population closer to 300.

"There's a growing problem in our backcountry that could easily spread throughout the region -- and it's called feral pigs," Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

The pigs can transmit diseases to livestock and humans via contaminated water or when they are eaten, said Scott Tremor of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Robert Scheid of the Inter-Governmental Group on Feral Pig Impacts said the pigs could start breeding with colonies in Riverside County and Baja California, and tackling the problem then would be more expensive.

"Feral pigs are just furry four-legged biological time bombs and, if we allow their populations to explode, we will be spending enormous amounts of money and resources," Scheid said.

Scheid said professional hunters could use traps, shoot them from helicopters or use dogs to track and hunt them down, in coordination with traditional hunters, he said.

"We have the benefit of having a relatively small population and an isolated population that we believe, through speaking with experts, can be eradicated," Scheid said. "But the window of opportunity is closing every day that these pigs are populating in San Diego County."

Eradication efforts could include legislation designating the pigs, currently considered a game species, a pest. That would allow hunters more ways of killing them and would give governments more funding options, he said. Environmental documents were being processed by California State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service for the development of a feral pig management program.

"We have an opportunity to create a template in San Diego County on how to get ahead of the curve," Scheid said.

The board voted 5-0 to request staff to continue to stay involved and to report back with updates, including legislative and funding opportunities. Jacob said it was logical for state and federal agencies to take the lead on any actions that would take place.

Authorities have discussed options for controlling the wild pigs for more than a year.

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