California farmers are dealing with the overpopulation of wild pigs, a problem that is threatening their crops. Though there are various methods they can use to protect their crops — fencing, traps, etc. — sometimes these hands-off methods aren't enough, and hunting the pests by hand is the only way. KPCC's Jacob Margolis reports.
It's a hot fall day along the border of a Bakersfield almond orchard. There are piles of almonds reaching 10 to 15-feet high that were just harvested, in plain sight of the wild pigs that live among the rolling hills surrounding the farm.
"All this matted grass that we see. It gives us an idea of where the pigs are coming in. The number of pigs that are coming in," said Erik Sun - a chef. He's also a partner at two LA restaurants, Bestia and Republique. "If the trails are really wide and it’s really heavy then it’s probably quite a number of pigs or at least some big wild boars."
Erik and his friend Erez (who asked that we not use his last name) are here to help the owner of the farm with his wild pig problem. First they're trying to figure out how the pigs are getting into the orchard.
"You see it’s just the whole area covered with footprints. Big pigs, little ones, just covered with footprints. I know 99 percent that we’ll see pigs here tonight," said Erez.
Wild pigs are a big problem on farms throughout California as they they tear up irrigation lines looking for water, and destroy tons of crops, like the almonds in this orchard. These pigs can eat up to 10,000 calories a day each, so groups of them can make a serious dent in a farmers haul.
"Food is scarce for them most the year," said Mark Kenyon, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "In the situation where the almonds or fruit is lying on the ground, it’s a smorgasbord for pigs."
Kenyon says there's no genetic difference between pigs and wild boars. It's believed that pigs were brought to the area by the Spanish in the 1700s. Some of them escaped and became the wild boars we see today.
California has tons of food and the perfect climate for them to reproduce, but there was a tipping point in their population 20 years ago. The state of California started issuing permits to farmers that said they could kill any wild pig that comes onto their property if they’re doing damage.
"Pigs will live most of their life within three square mile area. And as long as the resources in that area is suitable for their breeding and feeding they have no reason to leave," said Kenyon.
It’s hard for farmers to keep the pigs off their properties. They can try fencing — that’s what PETA suggests — but fencing is expensive and if it’s not deep enough the pigs can dig under it. So they call in hunters.
Back at the truck, Erez and Erik prepare their equipment. The guns they use can take down 300-pound pigs from as far as 500 yards away, and since April, they have killed more than 70 of them on this farm alone.
But it is also possible to spend all night out there and never see one pig. On this night, Erik thought that they'd be out there for a long time, but soon a female pig with piglets ran along a series of power lines towards the orchard.
Erik and Erez decided that the piglets were old enough and close enough to a food source that they’d be able to survive on their own, so they shot her. The pig died quickly, and her piglets took off into the orchard.
It was a young sow, probably about 100 pounds, and it would later be made into a wild boar ragu.