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East County Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 1 month ago

Lakewood Ranch pig problems left to neighborhoods, local trappers

Lakewood Ranch residents want government to help remove destructive wild pigs.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Note: A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman told the Observer after publication that wild hogs are not protected in the state. Although the FWC does not provide removal services for wild hogs, they may be trapped and hunted year-round on private property without a hunting license, if the landowner gives permission. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates the transportation and holding of live wild hogs, including the distribution of permits to those who transport and hold wild hogs.

An animal problem that is running wild is rearing its ugly head in Lakewood Ranch.

Wild pigs have become an increasingly common site on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, along Lake Uihlein and within Lakewood Ranch communities. Government agencies can’t seem to agree on who should take care of the problem, leaving Lakewood Ranch Town Hall and individual communities to manage the issue as best they can.

Manatee County Parks & Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker said in a statement the county “does not operate a large animal control or eradication program for nuisance wild boar, coyote, alligator or deer.” The statement said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was the authority on such issues. An employee for the commission, meanwhile, said the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services was the proper authority. A Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services then pointed back to the Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Lakewood Ranch Town Hall recently hired a new trapper, Juan Trevino of Cowboyup Specialties, to capture the pigs on property managed by one of Lakewood Ranch’s Community Development Districts or its Inter-District Authority. It’s the most the IDA can do on its own as hunting the pigs isn’t a viable option in such a high-density area, according to Lakewood Ranch IDA Executive Director Anne Ross.

“The population has gotten bigger,” Ross said, a sentiment that was echoed by several sources the Observer spoke with about the issue.

Edgewater, specifically, has been hit hard. Trevino began setting traps in Lakewood Ranch, with a high concentration in Edgewater, on Jan. 10. Lakewood Ranch CDD 2 board member Mike Finney said even if Edgewater succeeds in trapping enough pigs to convince the rest to move away, they will become the problem of some other community.

Wild pigs can cover hundreds of acres worth of ground in a single day. Because of this, Finney said the issue is statewide and even national in nature.

“Right now, the districts are on their own,” Edgewater resident and former CDD 2 board member Kathleen Grant said. “Because we're not getting any help from the county or the state to help mitigate it.”

Trevino, who has been trapping pigs for 15 years and hunting them since he was a youth, noted two reasons explaining why pigs are becoming a more noticeable problem in Lakewood Ranch. First, they are prolific breeders. Trevino said they usually have five to eight piglets at a time, and can give birth up to three times per year. Second, the pigs are running out of places to go because of increased development and construction in Lakewood Ranch.

Wild pigs have been causing landscape damage recently in Lakewood Ranch communities such as Edgewater.

As the pigs move into more residential areas, they cause damage to plants, yards, golf courses and more. Edgewater resident Robin Miller, for example, had to pay $4,000 to replace her yard in 2019 after pigs destroyed her yard beyond recognition.

“I just got so angry, and so frustrated with them, I’d grab a pot and pan and go out in the yard,” Miller said. “I’d scream, ‘Get the hell out of my yard! Get out, get out, get out!’”

Unfortunately, Trevino said, there aren’t many options for homeowners whose yards are at risk of being torn apart by pigs. One tactic is treating yards for grubs and worms. Another is removing fallen acorns, to prevent the pigs from finding their favorite foods.

Another affected neighborhood is River Club, which has hired a trapper of its own to mitigate the issue. Larry Levin, a board director for the community’s HOA, said property damage is the top complaint he hears. But he’s more worried about their presence on roads. Without a more coordinated effort from a higher level of government, such as the county, Levin said someone is going to get into a serious car accident.

Wild pigs are smart animals, especially once they’ve been exposed to trappers’ tricks like many used in Lakewood Ranch over the years, according to Trevino. First, if they come across an object they don’t recognize, they’ll typically walk around it. Second, once they see a member of their group trapped, they will stay away from that area and remember what the trap looked like in case of future encounters.

Juan Trevino sets up a power snare trap, one of five he plans on using in Lakewood Ranch.

As such, Trevino said the key to trapping pigs is luring them into a false sense of security. They tend to use the same paths over and over again, so placing snare traps on those trails is a good place to start. The ideal location for a box trap, on the other hand, is anywhere it can be easily camouflaged. Usually, that means tucking it away under bushes, branches and shrubs.

“I try to make it look natural, like a kid building a fort,” Trevino said. “I want them walking into a tunnel. … I’ll make it look like it's a big bush. And my traps don't have floors on them. That's another thing. When they use those traps, (the pigs) feel those bars. Little ones, you're going to get. The big ones, they're going to be like, ‘Nah, that's not right.’”

Since his traps don’t have floors, he uses stakes to hold them down and prevent the hogs from tipping them over.

Pig trapper Juan Trevino inspects his work after completing a power snare trap, which is covered by dirt and surrounded by corn to attract pigs.

Another key to trapping pigs is distracting them with food. As smart as they are, spreading corn around the vicinity of the trap often distracts them to the point they forget about their surroundings.

Overall, Trevino is planning to use five snare traps, four box traps and one corral trap with a 25- to 30-foot diameter, all of which he builds himself. Each trap is checked at least once a day, sometimes twice when he can recruit landscape workers to monitor them for him.

Trevino has seen pigs in the 500- to 600-pound range while trapping. When he traps one of that size, he has to kill it on site, because it is too large to transport. Otherwise, he typically ships the pig off to an approved holding facility, where it is then prepared to become food. Trevino said he has some individual buyers in the country that often buy his cuts of meat.

According to Manatee County, “an organized effort in one area by a determined HOA is rarely effective if other surrounding areas do not coordinate and assert the same level of control.” In the meantime, the pigs will likely continue to be a nuisance.

“In Lakewood Ranch, they’re just used to people,” Trevino said. “To them, that's like a little park. They know they're not getting hunted.”

Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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