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Feral hogs make pigpen of lawns

Talk about boarish neighbors.

When the Prices moved into the Stagecoach community four years ago, they expected tranquility. A backyard view of Mother Nature.

That didn't last.

Recently, feral hogs turned their carpet of grass into mounds of mud.

"Saturday morning (Oct. 25) we woke up, and it was all this," said Robert Price, pointing to a back yard that looked as if an ox-plow just passed through.

Price, whose home backs up to the Cypress Creek flatwoods, estimates the damage to his yard at $2,000. His bigger fear is that the unwelcome guests will return for another meal.

"It looks like someone took a tiller and were going to plant a garden but just left scraps," said Price, standing outside his gray stucco home in the neatly manicured community off Old State Road 54.

Price, 37, and his wife, Kris, 32, suspect the hogs who burrowed through their back yard in search of worms or other grub came from the neighboring 7,400-acre tract owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud.

One other neighbor on Price's street wound up at the wrong end of a pig snout, and Swiftmud plans to take action to prevent more damage.

The agency will erect hog wire in the hopes of stopping the feral hogs in their tracks, spokesman Michael Molligan said. He did not have a cost estimate for the fence. But as it does in other semiurban areas throughout the Tampa area, the agency also unleashed trappers onto Cypress Creek land in search of the beasts.

"They are incredibly devastating animals," he said, adding that his agency also holds hog hunts on its property in more rural areas. "We try to control the population as much as possible. They cause a lot of erosion problems."

The wild hogs have no predators left in central Florida, so they breed out of control on large swaths of wilderness from Hillsborough to Pasco counties. The animals first arrived in Florida with Hernando DeSoto in 1539.

Price, ecstatic when told that Swiftmud would build a fence, said he and his wife paid $5,000 extra to buy their first home on a conservation lot four years ago. It meant no one could ever build behind them.

"We expected some things," he said. Raccoons, armadillos.

"But having your yard dug up," he said, "we didn't expect that."

Jeff Yorns understands residents' concerns about the hogs' ferocity. The former Army man carried a .30-30 rifle with him Thursday while staking out their marks.

"They'll slice your leg open," he said, referring to the hogs' tusks.

The community called the nuisance wildlife hunter and trapper to coordinate the placement of bait for the hogs before Swiftmud's trappers catch them.

In the other hand he carried a snake hook. Yorns walked through the woods in cowboy boots, his graying blond ponytail under a broad-rimmed hat while two blades dangled from his back belt-loop _ a skinning knife and a machete to cut back the weeds.

He put the hogs' weight at about 250 pounds each. At least 30 of them could be traveling around Swiftmud's property bordering Stagecoach, while maybe about three adults with some babies tore up the Prices' yard, he said. Just Thursday he saw fresh marks left nearby in an easement alongside Cypress Creek.

Yorns complimented Swiftmud's cooperation in catching the hogs and offering to build the fence.

Joking with Price in a slow Southern drawl, he noted that wild hogs don't pay attention to homeowners' expectations of life next to a nature preserve.

"They didn't read the property agreement."

_ Saundra Amrhein can be reached at (352) 521-5757 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ex. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is amrheinsptimes.com.

Homeowner Robert Price shows the damage hogs did to his back yard in the Stagecoach community: "It looks like someone took a tiller and were going to plant a garden but just left scraps."

Yorns' trap has a large door that slams down after a hog trips the trigger while eating the bait in the cage. It is made of strong metal because the hogs are strong. Yorns says the hogs weigh about 250 pounds each. At least 30 of them could be traveling around Swiftmud's property bordering the Stagecoach community.

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