October 10, 2019

#149 30-50 Feral Hogs

by Reply All

A legit question from a rural American.

Asher Elbein's piece on feral hogs 

Transcript

[Reply All theme]


PJ Vogt: From Gimlet this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt. 


In August there was a mass shooting in El Paso, and I remember going online the day after with just this huge sense of dread. Because on top of just the actual tragedy of the actual event, the internet conversation after any sort of mass shooting is just terrible. It doesn’t even matter  how you feel about gun control, it’s just a debate that is definitely not gonna get solved on Twitter. 


And it’s a debate where everything anybody says, you already know exactly the counter response. It’s like being trapped in the most soul crushing version of groundhog day. Except this time something very, very different happened. Which is that there’s this musician named Jason Isbell. 


[MUSIC]


PJ: He’s sort of an indie/country guy, and he tweeted exactly what you’d expect somebody like him to tweet, he said something about how there’s no reason that anybody should own an assault rifle. But then, this random person showed up with a counterargument that did not feel familiar. It felt like it had been beamed in from outer space. It was this Twitter user named Willie McNabb -- and his tweet was just this:


“Legit question for rural Americans - how do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 min while my small kids play.”


People lost their minds. It was just like …feral hogs? What was this person talking about? Everything got derailed, it felt like the internet got to have a snow day. 


Somebody did 30-50 Pharrell hogs, like Pharrell Williams, where the hogs had the big pharrell hats. My personal favorite was just this tweet that went -- take me down to the paradise city where the hogs are feral and there’s 30 to 50. It was just an unexpectedly nice time on the internet.


Most people have since moved on, I have not. Because I just keep wondering about the guy who posted this tweet. In the weeks that followed, he has not retreated. He changed his twitter Avatar to a picture of a hog. He’s been posting all sorts of feral hog articles and videos. 


[Phone Ring]


PJ: He’s clearly not done talking about this. 


RECEPTIONIST: El Dorado Medals.

PJ: Hi this is PJ Vogt calling for Willie McNabb 

RECEPTIONIST: Sure, hold on one second.

PJ: Thank you. 


PJ: Willie lives in El Dorado, Arkansas, I caught him at work.


WILLIE MCNAB: Good morning.

PJ: Hey Willie. This is PJ.

WILLIE: How are you, PJ?

PJ: Good, how are you doing?

WILLIE: Uh, I’m great.


PJ: So, the first surprising thing about Willie, was that he told me he’d actually really enjoyed the jokes that were made at his expense.  


WILLIE: I found a lot of them funny. They were kind of mean spirited but not. It was such a crazy framing of the question that I made. Look it was ripe to be ridiculed. 

PJ: What do you think people did find funny about it?

WILLIE: Well it’s kind of preposterous, 30-50, where does 30-50 come from? Why not, you know, why not 20-25? (PJ laughs) And so that’s odd. And then the 3-5 minutes while my small kids play. And that’s even odd in itself (PJ laughs). So when you’ve got all these preposterous notions just sitting there. And how do they tie together? And, and especially, prefacing all that with “legit question for rural America” so people are like, “Wait a second, this is not legit. This is crazy!” (PJ laughs). 


PJ: Willie is a huge Jason Isbell fan. Loves his lyrics, he’s listened to his music so much he basically feels like he knows the guy. And he’s tweeted at him before, like Willie’ll tell Jason he loved his recent concert, he’ll ask him when he’s gonna cover “Black” by Pearl Jam. Usually these tweets go unnoticed. This time things went differently.


PJ:  Do you remember his original tweet that, that you replied to?


WILLIE: You know, he was speaking, uh, specifically about assault weapons and what had happened in El Paso, and I can agree with the sentiment of, can’t we do something about assault weapons? I mean, this is just, this is ridiculous how our country has got to this point. Why can’t our leaders come together? Now, I’ve never even shot an AR or an AK. I’ve never been around them really to speak of. It’s just not something I’ve ever felt comfortable with. But he was, he was framing it in a way like there’s just no, there’s no circumstance that would require this. 


PJ: Willie knew of at least one possible circumstance … and he knew about it because of this really bizarre thing that had happened to him a few years ago, after he moved out to the country.


[MUSIC]  


WILLIE: It was probably mid-morning. It was a spring day and my wife, she liked the kids to be outside and play, and I would too, and I’m sure she’s the one that let them out that morning to go outside. And we had a little playground set up in the backyard. And uh, she just, she just yells out, “There’s pigs! All in the yard! Everywhere!”


PJ: Did she sound scared?


WILLIE: She did. You could hear it in her voice


PJ: Willie told me the reason his wife was scared is these weren’t like, barnyard pigs, they were feral hogs. They’re more like wild boars – some have big sharp tusks, they’re much bigger, with longer legs. They move really fast. And that moment, there was a bunch of them swarming around his 4 and 5 year old. It was scary.


WILLIE: I went to my safe. I got my gun. I got my shells. Went right out on the back porch.


PJ: And how were the hogs acting? Were they like moving quickly? Were they–


WILLIE: Well, yeah. You know, they’re running all through the yard from the back of my yard all the way to the front. And then I pick out, of course, the ones that look the meanest. The one with the tusk. These are two or three hundred pound hogs. I’m not letting them near my family. 


PJ: Yeah–


WILLIE: So, just for lack of a better term, I just start laying them down. 


PJ: Willie shoots three with his hunting rifle, and the rest of the hogs run off. Afterwards, he was just bewildered. He’d never seen anything like this before.So he started looking for answers. 


WILLIE: I started speaking to my neighbors and people that I worked with or people that we worked for or people that we did business with and just anybody that I could, that I could speak to that had any understanding of how to deal with these hogs. And it only happened three more times. It could happen today. You know, I could go home and the hogs, they could come back out. 


PJ: These days, Willie says if the hogs show up, he just goes out with a shotgun fires it in the air. That drives them away. His point--and he regrets injecting this into the gun control debate-- his point is that feral hogs are a real, dramatic problem, and none of the people who are yelling at him online seem to understand it, or even want to imagine it. 


I will say that, after an hour on the phone, Willie had made at least one convert. Me. I now believe in the feral hog problem I believe it is a glorious fiasco.


[MUSIC]


PJ: I’ve spent the past month interviewing farmers and hunters and economists and experts and writers and also my cousin Kip, feral hogs is now basically all I can talk about. 


And look I’m not saying that feral hogs is the only thing we should talk about as a country. I get that there's a lot going on right now. But I just feel like feral hogs should be in the top 10. Like I live in New York City, sometimes I have to deal with rats, if the rats were 400 pounds and attacking my apartment in gangs of 30 to 50. I just feel like it would be a topic of conversation . 


So this week, we’re doin’ it. This is a Reply All special investigation into the feral hog invasion of America. Starting after the break. 


[BREAK]


PJ: So before we get started, we’ve done content warnings on the show before. I don’t think we’ve ever done one like this. There’s a lot of references to killing hogs in this piece. Like a lot. And there’s a reason for that. Which is that feral hogs are not indigenous to America. They’re an invasive species. They’re not supposed to be here. Which means that when they show up in an area, the only solution biologists have found is population control. Killing them. 


So the story of how they got here in the first place it actually starts 500 years ago. Columbus has already landed in the Carribean. And so other explorers start coming over to the Americas from Europe. One of them is Hernando de Soto. He’s a conquistador, he comes from Spain on this big raiding expedition across the American Southeast looking for gold. He’s horrible at it. 


[MUSIC]


Horrible by today’s standards but also by 1500’s standards – he finds no gold, his men nearly starve, De Soto dies of fever, but not before trying to convince people that he’s an immortal deity called “The Son of the Sun”, S-U-N, a lie that his death frankly kind of undermines. Basically, what his expedition brought to America was smallpox, colonialism and cruelty. And weirdly, also – feral hogs. 


This journalist named Asher Elbein told me about it.


ASHER: One of the things that they brought, because this was sort of European practice, was they brought feral hogs as like a mobile larder. Although they weren't feral at the time, they immediately you know wandered off into the bush and sort of decided that they didn't want to be dinner for a bunch of gold-hungry Spaniards and then no Europeans saw them again for a while.


PJ: They brought them over because they were big fat animals that they could then just kill and eat while they were here?


ASHER: Yeah, because you can just set hogs loose in the forest and they'll live on anything and they'll convert all the acorns and detritus into pork, which you can then, just hunt them down while you're marching and eat. The idea was not that you kept them in a pen. The idea was that they were out there, you owned them, and then you just went and got them when you wanted one. 


PJ: It was almost like the 1500s version of takeout food. You just had these fat hogs wandering in the woods that you could just eat whenever you wanted to. And for centuries, the hogs don’t do much. Britain establishes colonies, the hogs eat and procreate. America declares independence, the hogs eat and procreate. Cars are invented, we land on the moon. Everything’s hunky dory. 


ASHER: So obviously like hogs are pretty well established in the east. There are probably feral hogs in Texas but they're certainly not as–nearly as common. And then what starts happening in the 1970s is people figure out that feral hogs are really fun to hunt. Not just for food but just for fun. 


PJ: And so, people who don’t already have hogs on their land, they go bring them in from wherever and they start making money by charging people who want to hunt hogs.


ASHER: By the time anybody figured out that feral hogs are extremely adaptable, extremely fecund, and very smart, it was kind of too late.


PJ: How fecund and how smart?


ASHER: Well, how smart, um, they're really- they’re- man- they're just–they're just smart. They, um, so for example when it comes to trying to trap feral hogs, there's only so many methods you can use, because they tend to just figure out that something's afoot, and then you can't use that method again. 


PJ: So for instance, if you have a gang of feral hogs terrorizing your land, and you set up a box trap – if one of them falls for the trap, the rest will now teach each other how to avoid it. They’ve also been caught using rocks to test whether electric fences are turned on. They’re smart.


As far as how fecund, Asher told me that feral hogs are the fastest reproducing large mammal on earth. Here’s what that looks like: When a female is 6 months old, she can get pregnant. She can then give birth to a litter of up to 14 piglets. And she can do that twice in a year. So, one female feral hog CAN equal 28 more hogs in less than a year. And six months later, her offspring can repeat the same process. Which is how we got to our current situation. Six million feral hogs wreacking various amounts of havoc across 35 states.


[MUSIC]


NEWS ANCHOR: From Pleasant Grove to near downtown Dallas and whiterock lake, the feral hogs have dug up trails, attacked small dogs, and dried up ponds. 


PJ: Feral hogs are literally reshaping the entire landscape just because they’re hungry. They dig these big holes in the ground, looking for stuff to eat.


NEWS INTERVIEW: We came out only to find holes five foot wide, a foot and a half deep.


PJ: And this is not just in the country. They’re swarming suburbs, they’re swarming cities.


NEWS ANCHOR 2: A pack of wild hogs, we counted more than a dozen, running through the streets of this quiet subdivision.


PJ: They’re running into traffic, causing car accidents.


NEWS INTERVIEW 2: I made a split second decision to just grip the steering wheel and just drive straight through them. 


PJ: They dig up the foundations of buildings, they’re in cemetaries.


NEWS INTERVIEW 3: And my deceased husband is buried right there, so it’s, yes, it’s, it’s heartbreaking. 


PJ:  According to the USDA, feral hogs have played a role in the decline of nearly 300  native plants and animals in the United States. They kill household pets, eat bird eggs, they snack on lambs and calves, they’ve been found with baby sea turtles in their bellies. 

But the place where they do the most damage is crops. One expert I spoke to told me she has not been able to find a crop that feral hogs won’t eat. And if you really want to understand what this destruction looks like, you have to go to the place where feral hogs are at their worst: Texas.


[MUSIC]


PJ: Feral hog population: 3 million.


RICHARD BEYER: Hello? 


PJ: Hi Richard? 


RICHARD: Yes.


PJ: Do you have a minute right now?


RICHARD: Yes sir. Yeah, sure do


PJ: So this is Richard Beyer. He’s a farmer down in Palacios, a town on the Southeastern coast of Texas. And like every farmer I talked to, he was completely happy to drop what he was doing and talk to a stranger on the phone about how much he hates feral hogs.


RICHARD: I mean at planting time, you would plant ‘til, you know, eight or nine o'clock and then, uh, go ride around at night with your night vision and check, check your fields to see if you can find a pack of hogs out in what you had just planted. You know, you may leave your field about 10, 10:30, 11 o'clock that night, then you would go home and get a shower and eat supper. And then try to be back out at your field by about, you know, three or four in the morning to try to check them again. 


PJ: Have you ever had it that you go out, so you finish planting at like 10:30 at night, you go out and check at 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, and the hogs have come?


RICHARD: Yeah. I mean, a lot of, a lot of cases, you'll catch them out there.


PJ: God.


RICHARD: Sometimes they’re–they’ve already come and gone.


PJ: How much money do you think you've lost to hogs?


RICHARD: For me personally, it's well over- it–it's in the hundreds of thousands.


PJ: Richard says with the hogs, there’s just no ceiling to the amount of damage they can do. When insects damage his crops, he just has to find the right insecticide. When there’s a fungus, there’s a fungicide. With feral hogs though – they just keep coming. They have very few natural predators. Which means that when you talk to farmers, all of them have just come up with their own sort of Coyote vs. Roadrunner solutions to the problem. For instance, I talked to this guy Tommy Henderson, who grows wheat over in Clay County. 


PJ: Hi. Tommy?


TOMMY: Yes.


PJ: Hi. My name’s PJ Vogt. Uh, Gene Hall from the Texas Farm Bureau gave me your number. 


TOMMY: Okay.


PJ: I’m a journalist working on a story about feral hogs.


TOMMY: Yes.


PJ: He said you might be a person to talk to.


TOMMY: Could be, yeah.


PJ: How bad are they for you?


TOMMY: They’re bad. Let me, let me give you a YouTube video.


PJ: Yeah.


TOMMY: And you watch it, it’s our video. I’m going to give you the name of it right now.


PJ: Uh huh.


TOMMY: And you look it up on it, on YouTube.


PJ: Okay.


TOMMY: It’s called “Insane. Feral. Hog. Eradication.”


PJ: Insane Feral Hog Eradication.


PJ: All right. Let me watch.


[SOUND OF VIDEO STARTS]


PJ: What is it?


TOMMY: That is, that is a Polaris ATV. And then we’ve got thermal vision too. 


PJ: So that glitchy sound you hear, that’s gunshots. Tommy’s partner is using a shotgun with a silencer. You see everything from a gopro on the front of Tommy’s  ATV. His headlights sweep across the field, immediately a bunch of hogs gallops by. 


[MUSIC]


PJ: You see the laser sight of the gun land on a target.  Shoot it, aim at another. There’s a real Seal Team Six vibe to the whole thing. Except this two man elite military squad, they’re targeting hogs. In the beginning they’re shooting them from far off and the hogs look kind of cute. They've got these bouncy little butts.


But as the video progresses they get closer and you just realize how big they are. They’re huge. They’re hairy. Their tusked. They hit another bigger herd, the green laser sight of the gun picks a hog off.  It rolls offscreen. Just over and over and over. Pretty soon it feels overwhelming. There’s so many hogs. They’re everywhere. It looks like the last level of a zombie videogame. The moment before the hero just gets fully enveloped in the hord. 


TOMMY: You know, we just get out and make the rounds. Some nights, we’ll see, oh, when we’re out, we, we may see anywhere from a thousand to 1,500 hogs some nights.


PJ: Jesus.How do you personally feel about the hogs?


TOMMY: I wish they were all gone. 


PJ: Every single one of ‘em?


TOMMY: Every single one of ‘em.


[video out]


PJ: Tommy hates the hogs so much because during planting season he has to do this 4 nights a week, on top of the rest of his farming work.


But here’s the problem. When he posted the video, the point he was trying to make was the feral hogs are out of control, and also that he and his partner are very good at killing them. But when people saw the video, the thing that they took away was that killing feral hogs seems extremely fun. 


PJ: It looks like it has like, two million views.


TOMMY: Yeah.


PJ: Were you surprised to go viral?


TOMMY: Oh yeah. We was, we was totally shocked. 


PJ: I’d been talking to people about feral hogs for weeks before I started to understand this part of the problem. Which is that it turns out that the fact that hogs are fun to kill is actually making them harder to get rid of. 


So let me explain. Since the 90’s, in an effort to control hog populations, Texas has continuously relaxed the laws around killing feral hogs. They wanted to get rid of them and so they told people You can hunt them year-round, you can kill as many as you want.  The goal was to help farmers like Tommy. The problem was  at the same time, they were also helping this growing industry of hog hunters. Hog hunters who want there to be at least some hogs in Texas so that they can charge people to kill them. They get to kill hogs in ways that they’d never be allowed to kill another animal, ways that every year get more baroque and more absurd. 


[MUSIC]


[helicopter sound]


They shoot them out of helicopters 


HELI MAN 1: What do you fellas think? 


HELI MAN 2: That’s fun, Brad!  I love it, I love it.


HELI MAN 1: Alright guys, light’em up 


NEWS MAN: Hunting feral hogs from hot air balloons 


[DRONE NOISE] 


MAN 3: They’re about 100 plus yards...


PJ: They track them with drones 


MAN 3: Small family of 3 or maybe 4.


MAN 4: Lead me to him. Where do I go?


MAN 3: Shoot James, shoot! 


PJ: They blow them up using explosives. 


MAN 5: Here we go, bye bye pig.

[big explosive, laughter] 


MAN 5: Oh, shit!


MEN: (laughing) 


MAN 6: Holy shit!


PJ: And everytime they do this, they take a video and a bunch of people see that video and they think, “I’d like to get in on that action.” There are now hog hunting TV shows. 


[INTENSE PIG HUNTING MUSIC] 


HOG TV 3: Christie and I are professional hog hunters from Texas.


PJ: Every day, you can turn on your TV and watch people wearing camo running through the brush of South Texas killing hogs.


HOG TV 4: Go! Go! [intense hog hunting music] Go get em, girl! [dogs parking, hog snortling] 


PJ: So  that is why there are now feral hogs in so many states. It’s not because they walked. It’s because people smuggled them to new places so that they too could experience the joy of killing them. And what they didn’t realize, or didn’t care about, is that the hogs could reproduce faster than they could be killed. In Texas, almost a million hogs are killed every year, they’d have to more than double that just for the population to hold steady.


So how do you solve a problem when a lot of people are having so much fun trying to solve it, that they never actually do? In 2017, a local politician announced that actually it was simple. He’d figured it out. 


The guys name is Sid Miller. He’s the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture. He’s a Fox news regular. Loves to wear a giant white cowboy hat. A local newspaper paper called him a “French cartoonists caricature of a Texan”, which feels exactly right. Sid loves big flashy solutions to complicated problems.


[MUSIC]


TEXAS NEWS: This week State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller okayed a new hog lure, laced with a pesticide called warfarin that acts much like rat poison. He said prepare for a hog apocalypse. 


PJ: The poison was called Kaput. It’s basically warfarin, which is a poison that’s been used on rats, but it  had never been used for anything as large as hogs in the United States. But Sid was saying -- this is an emergency, there’s no time for independent studies of this thing, the hog apocalypse is happening now. 


A lot of people were watching this and I spoke to one of them. This hog hunter named Bruce Honeycutt.


BRUCE HONEYCUTT: I saw it on Facebook they had an article from a paper in San Angelo, ok? 


PJ: Mm.


BRUCE: And it, Sid Miller, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, was basically telling everybody that he had the apocalypse of hogs. Well, I didn’t know what that was. I pulled it up on the internet – Kaput – and when I looked at the label I went ballistic.


[MUSIC]


 BRUCE: I mean, it just flew all over me.


PJ: What Bruce read on the label was that any animal poisoned with Kaput had to be then found and buried at least 18 inches under the ground. And if that didn’t happen, dogs could eat the poison, they could die. People could eat poisoned hog meat. To Bruce, it was very clear that this was dangerous. 


So he gets in his car, he drives the six hours to Austin to talk to Sid Miller in person. Turns out Sid Miller is a surprisingly responsive politician. 


BRUCE: So we get in the meeting room, and, and everybody's sitting around the table, and I ask him, I said, "Mr. Miller,” I said, “I don't want anybody saying I said something I didn't say in this meeting and you don't want anybody saying you said something you didn't say, so do you mind if I record this meeting?" And I held my phone up. And he said, "No that'll be fine."


[tape of meeting] 


BRUCE: Okay, I have–first off, the question I’m going to ask you, are you looking at the same product label that I am when you say that this is 100% safe? And it’s not going–


SID MILLER: I never said it was 100% safe.


BRUCE: Okay.


BRUCE: That product label right there says “all animals,” that’s what it says, all animals, every one of them has to be recovered and put 18 inches under the ground. 


SID: Right.


BRUCE: Okay. How you gonna do that? It says you have to put it in a brushy area. How are you gonna find all them, Mr. Miller? You’re not.


SID: I guess we should take that off the label, because it’s not doable.


BRUCE: It’s not.


SID: Yeah. We’ll take it off.


BRUCE: But–


PJ: In case you didn’t catch that, Sid is saying, if you’re worried about people following the rules, fine. We’ll just delete the rules from the warning label, which is not at all what Bruce is asking for. 

BRUCE: Some of the other things it says in there, animals that feed on those caracasses are gonna die! It can kill’em. Whether you say it or not, the label says it will. Okay?


SID: We can, we can adjust that too.


BRUCE: (laughs) You’re not getting the point. I can’t take a chance of, of cleaning a hog that I don’t know has been poisoned, eats on his feeder one day–


SID: Right.


BRUCE: Of poison–


SID: I get it. I get it.


BRUCE: And the next day he comes to my feeder and my guy kills him. He’s got poison in him. Okay? He’s got poison in him.


PJ: If you had to imagine something worse than feral hogs, it’s probably this: A really dangerous poison, potentially killing animals and hurting people. It’s like the way you take care of the rats in your house is just by nuking your whole building. I called Sid to ask him about this, again he’s a surprisingly responsive politician. And he said the problem is actually Bruce, the guy who made the recording. 


SID: The opposition put out a lot of erroneous faults and a lot of misleading information that simply wasn’t true.


PJ: What do you think they got wrong?


SID: Well, that how how dangerous this product was. It’s absolutely safe and they didn’t, you know, a turkey would have to eat twelve pounds. A cow would have to eat 800 pounds. A dog would have to eat 30 pounds of it. I mean, just eating that much will kill you no matter what it is. 


PJ: My understanding is that these hogs are–can get really huge, like two or three hundred pounds?


SID: That’s true.


PJ: I don’t understand how you make something that can kill them at their size, but won’t kill things that are smaller or be dangerous to humans?


SID: Well, they’re, they’re, they’re kinda in the, in the rodent family, so it works on them just like it does rats or mice. And hogs are kinda the, the same, in that same classification. So it actually causes liver damage and causes them to hemorrhage on the inside. But it doesn’t affect any other, any other mammal. Well, it could possibly affect a black bear, which we don’t really have any in Texas. Very few. 


PJ: This conversation turned me around so much, I literally googled “are pigs rodents” when I was done. They’re not. And Texans, who presumably already know facts like this, did not find Sid’s arguments persuasive. An unholy alliance was formed between The Texas Hog Hunters Association and PETA, probably a first in Texas history. A judge intervened. The company behind Kaput got scared and withdrew from the state – Sid lost. 


[MUSIC]


Which, when I first heard the story, I was pretty sure was a good thing. But then last week, I talked to someone who convinced me that maybe the problem with Sid’s solution, was actually that he hadn’t gone far enough. 


PJ VOGT: So first of all can you just tell me your name and what you do?


STEPHANIE SHWIFF: My name is Stephanie Shwiff. I am a research economist and project leader of the Economics Project for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center.


Stephanie and her team spend most of their time at the federal government just trying to catalogue the damage that feral hogs are doing. And that they could do. She told me that it is possible to imagine a world where one of the many diseases that feral hogs transmit creates a catastrophe.


 STEPHANIE SHWIFF: If they get a foreign animal disease, for example, like African Swine Fever, right? And if they were to get that, I mean, that’s a done deal.


PJ: What do you mean, that’s a done deal?


STEPHANIE: Well, I mean that–African Swine Fever will shut down our ability to export. That is a OIE reportable disease and basically once you get that, trade shuts down. It absolutely shuts down. 


PJ: That’s why Stephanie is in favor of an extreme solution. So first of all, she’s pro toxicants. Even though, unlike Sid, she fully acknowledges that Kaput is nasty.

  

STEPHANIE: Well, have you ever seen an animal die from warfarin?


PJ: No.


STEPHANIE: It’s awful. It’s horrible. They bleed out of every orifice basically. Um, it’s not a good way to go, right. You may hate feral swine but nobody wants to see something die a horrible death 


PJ: Stephanie says, scientists are currently researching alternative toxicants, and she really hopes they find a better one. But right now Kaput  is what we have. And it might be the one we have to go with. One way to think about it is it’s basically like chemotherapy in the early days. 


STEPHANIE: I mean, chemotherapy is a toxicant. There is no way around it, right? It is going in there and it is killing everything. And nobody wants chemotherapy. Nobody wants that. But you’re sitting there and you’re like, “Well, I could either do chemo or I could die.” What we understand with chemotherapy, right, is we understand the tradeoffs better. And I feel like, the American public, we don’t understand what a cancer wild pigs are.


PJ: So, convincing the entire state of Texas to sign  up for hog chemo...tricky. We know that. But even if you could… the second part of Stephanie’s plan, it sounds like something that when Texans hear about it, they’re going to say, you know what, never mind just give me the double dose of chemo.


STEPHANIE: First thing you need to do is make hunting illegal, because if it’s legal, there’s always going to be an incentive to have i t, you’re never going to eliminate something if there’s an incentive to keep it. 


PJ: So it’s basically like, as complicated as the problem is, it’s really: stop hunting, find a toxicant that people can live with, time?


STEPHANIE: Yeah.


PJ: So you, but you think it’s possible like in your lifetime or in my lifetime that they could be eradicated or they could be controlled?


STEPHANIE: No. I don’t. I think we can begin to, I don’t think it will be in my lifetime or your lifetime that we will eradicate feral swine. There’s simply too many. I think we will begin to slow their movement and push them back, but no.


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PJ: A month ago, I set out to answer a question, which it turns out is legit: What should Willie Mcnabb do about the 30-50 feral hogs that run into his yard within 3-5 mins while his small kids play? And turns out, the answer is: You don’t solve that problem with an assault rifle, or a hunting rifle, or even at the level of Willie at all. Whatever solution we find, it’s gonna require us to do the stuff we’re really awful at -- balancing all these competing human interests, from people who are suffering in different ways, benefitting in different ways, who will be exposed to different amounts of risk. 


It makes you realize another advantage the hogs have is that they all basically want the same thing. They don’t spend a lot of time bickering. But then again, we’ve got people like Willie. 


When Willie posted his original tweet, he got so much shit from people who just told him, “this is simple, you got some pigs you don’t like, put up a fence.” 

PJ: Was it annoying for you because I think part of what also happened with your tweet was that it reached an audience of people, a lot of whom don’t live in rural areas, don’t, you know, aren’t sort of, are in a pretty different reality from you, and so you’re arguing with people over how to take care of the hogs, and all of a sudden they’re just googling stuff about fences. Do you know what I mean?


WILLIE: Yeah.


PJ: You’re trying to explain a situation that you concretely live in to people who don’t.


WILLIE: Yeah it is, but you know, that’s, I don’t pretend to know how to fix um, problems in our major cities. Chicago has become this thing for the right. They just uh, go after all these problems in Chicago. You know, I don’t know the problems in Chicago. When people talk about the problems in Chicago and the gun problems and the gang problems, just because I don’t understand them, don’t make them any less real. You know, rural areas have the same type of problems, and someone who tweets how to capture a hog, or here’s a fence, or here’s a trap, or that’s how you do it, there’s a lot more to the debate than just a ten second Google search of how to stop it. 


If you would like to talk to Willie about feral hogs, he’s still up for it. You can find him on Twitter @willimcnabb


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PJ: Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our interns are Emily Rostek and Rachel Cohn. This is our last week with Emily, thanks so much for all your hard work. Our theme music is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Special thanks this week to Stephen Ditchkoff, My cousin Kip Layton, for explaining to me why hog hunting is fun, Bethany Friesenhahn, and Gene Hall.

Matt Lieber is starting a new job. We’ll miss you Matt.  Thanks for listening, we’ll see you in three weeks.