Wild hog population expanding in regions of San Diego County

Hunters throughout Southern California are perking up their ears.

Reports of wild hogs in the San Diego River drainage from El Capitan Reservoir upstream to nearly Highway 78 have grown to the point where the Cleveland National Forest staff has grown concerned about the hog’s impact on natural and cultural resources in the region.

“Our concern spans all three of our [ranger] districts… and the end result we’re seeking is to reduce or eliminate the resource problems caused by the wild pigs,” said Brian Harris, a spokesman for the Cleveland National Forest.

Doesn’t that sort of sound like an invitation to hunters?

Harris said that wild hogs have been reported widely in the Cleveland National Forest, encompassing an area that reaches from nearly the Mexican border all the way north into Riverside and Orange counties. The Forest Service is most concerned about the pigs on the Descanso district near El Capitan Reservoir, where there seem to be the most animals, and in the San Mateo Wilderness just south of Highway 74 in Riverside and Orange counties. Possible damage to sensitive habitat for endangered plants and amphibians and Indian artifact sites has the Forest staff concerned with the growing hog population.

San Diego Museum of Natural History started a survey last fall to discover the extent of the range of the feral pigs in the region. While the study is not complete, wild hogs or hog sign (rooting, scat, or tracks) have been identified in a large region with Lakeside, Descanso, Julian, and Ramona as the four corners of their range, with the hogs mostly concentrated along the San Diego River and its tributaries.

San Diego outdoor writer Ed Zieralski reported in 2008 that the wild hogs in the San Diego River region likely came from a single, intentional release of Russian hog stock on the Capitan Grande Indian Reservation, which borders much of El Capitan Reservoir. Apparently no more than 20 hogs were released in 2006, but the intent was to establish enough hogs for hunting on the Indian reservation. Not surprisingly, the pigs have not stayed put, and the population has grown.

Megan Jennings, a forest service biologist, said that while no accurate estimates have been made for the number pigs living in and around the San Diego River drainage, she has heard “guesses the population is from 40 to 300 pigs.”

Anglers fishing El Capitan have seen individual groups of hogs numbering around 30 animals.

In the San Mateo Wilderness, right on the Orange and Riverside county border, there have only been a couple of reports of individual hogs.

Wild hogs are extremely prolific. Sows frequently give birth to more than a dozen piglets, and they will frequently have two litters a year. To compound their growth potential, sows often have their first litter of young when they are only six to eight months old.

Jennings said the word has been slow to get out among hunters that there is a viable, huntable population of wild hogs on the Cleveland along the San Diego River. She explained that part of the problem is that the best hog hunting areas have little access except by long hikes. Hunters are advised to make sure they have current Forest Service maps and avoid trespassing on lands closed to access if they intend to hunt this region.

As the hog population continues to grow, and this El Nino year could really lead to a boost in numbers and growth of the areas being used by hogs, there is going to be increasing opportunity for hunters on the Cleveland National Forest.

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