Texas Golf Courses Suffer $1.3 Million in Feral Hog Damage Every Year

In Texas, you might find something other than “birdies” on a green. Look for a real animal: the wild pig.

Feral pigs are encroaching on urban areas and their presence has a cost, according to a research team that includes professors from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Large hogs cause damage to Texas golf courses amounting to at least $1.3 million a year, they found in a study.

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“The juxtaposition of wild pigs and well-to-do golfers generated headlines and clever chuckles,” the researchers wrote. “However…our results provide the first estimates of damage to an important sector of the turfgrass industry.”

The research team distributed surveys to hundreds of golf courses and cemeteries across Texas. Using the reported average costs, they predicted that both parameters incur $1.6 million in feral hog damage per year – with golf courses bearing the bulk of the losses.

About 20% of facilities that received surveys responded — 38 cemeteries and 85 golf courses — and the most frequent damage reports were from the Gulf Coast region, according to the findings. The research team hypothesized that counties with more months of above-average temperatures were more susceptible to damage, possibly because pigs seek out irrigated land when temperatures rise.

Around the Gulf Coast, 15 golf courses and seven cemetery properties reported “definitely” seeing feral hog damage, the study found.

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“Areas that remain moist throughout the year — such as golf courses and cemeteries, which are usually irrigated — are essential for good habitat for feral pigs,” the researchers said.

Feral hogs have for years angered homeowners and farmers in Houston-area counties because of the threat to their land. Although not native to North America, Texas is now home to 2.6 million feral pigs in every county except El Paso, nearly a third of the 7 million pigs wild in the United States, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. And they are physically large, with some males reaching between 400 and 500 pounds.

Golf courses and cemeteries had to spend thousands of dollars on repairs every quarter, according to the latest study. They spent even more on mitigation and prevention, making the $1.6 million in damages only part of the picture.

Feral hog visits have occurred sporadically, but responding golf course and cemetery managers said the amount of feral hog damage has increased over the past three years.

Pigs caused the most destruction to turf by trampling and wallowing, or digging a ditch and covering themselves in mud. Less damage was done to structures, although some people said the pigs knocked over headstones and irrigation systems. Cemeteries were less likely to sustain damage, likely because they are fenced in and generally smaller than golf courses, the researchers said.

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Invasive species in the United States cause more than $120 billion in damage and control costs annually, the team cited. And $1.5 billion in damages are attributed to feral pigs across the country.

More is known about their damage to traditional agricultural sectors than to the turf industry, where golf courses are the largest sector, the researchers said. Texas has 800 golf courses and 80 free-standing driving ranges, and the industry is lucrative: golf courses generate an estimated $33.2 billion in production nationwide.

The research team included A&M-Commerce professors of management and economics Steven Shwiff and Lirong Liu, along with U.S. Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University professors and from Colorado State University. They have worked together for ten years, primarily focusing on the economic damage caused by invasive species, according to Texas A&M-Commerce.

The research was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Western Economics Forum, a publication of the Western Agricultural Economics Federation.

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Michael C. Ford