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Trapper may eat high on the hog

One man interviews for official feral hog trapper. If he's hired, he pays the county.

By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED
Published June 7, 2007


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TAMPA -- Steve Davis asked to be Hillsborough County's official feral hog trapper Wednesday, which leads to the question, "Why?"

If he gets the job -- and it's looking good, considering he was the only one interviewed -- he'll pay $100 a year for the privilege. He'll drag huge traps into the woods and check them daily. He'll get messy trying to tie up the surly creatures.

He'll spend about $50 each on corn while he babysits them through a trichinosis quarantine period.

And then he'll sell them to a meatpacker for maybe $50 each.

Good thing Davis says he's "not in it for the money."

The bearded, camouflage-wearing Dover native loves trapping hogs, he says, and he plans to enlist his 18-year-old son Eric to help.

"There's a need for it in certain areas of the county where they're having a problem with hogs," said Davis, who runs Tampa Wholesale Nursery on the same plot in Dover where he grew up and still lives.

"It's just something we wanted to get involved in."

Davis interviewed with officials at the Hillsborough Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department for the position.

One of the interviewers, environmental technician Richard White, said he would be a near shoo-in when the County Commission decides in late July whether to appoint him.

Davis, 48, has worked with animals his whole life. He has a permit to rehabilitate wildlife and estimates he's nursed "probably 30" bald eagles back to health.

He said he's currently taking care of three red-shouldered hawks, a red-tailed hawk, four barred owls, a great horned owl and a kestrel hawk, as well as injured bobcats, otters and raccoons.

Though Davis belongs to the National Rifle Association and enjoys hunting, he will use nonlethal traps. That's the only legal way to deal with the animals on the roughly 44, 000 acres the department oversees.

Over a single month in 2001, a previous trapper managed to catch 41 hogs in the Balm Boyette Scrub Reserve, department records show.

But his contract expired about 2 1/2 years ago, and the county's decision to stop letting trappers use hunting dogs made it hard to replace him, White said.

The department has to supervise trappers with dogs, which strains resources.

"We're not here to provide a free sport," White said. Nearly 30 prospective trappers showed up at an informational meeting in January, but when he announced the dog-hunting restriction "that room cleared out quick."

But cloven hooves move a lot faster than the gears of bureaucracy, and the hogs have multiplied in the interim.

They tear up fresh plantings, costing the county thousands of dollars in a night and transforming parks to moonscapes.

The hogs "love those young shoots," said department technician Bryon Chamberlin.

They use their wide snouts to dig ruts in the dirt as deep as 2 feet in their search for anything edible.

"They can really sling some dirt," agreed Ken Bradshaw, another department worker.

He tells of a county truck with a dent in its roof from when a worker drove onto newly ravaged land. The driver's head hit the ceiling.

The hogs, which were probably brought to Florida as food for Spanish settlers, flourish for an array of reasons.

They can eat anything from rotten crabs to acorns.

A single sow can produce a litter of up to 12 piglets twice a year -- and the offspring can breed before their first birthday.

And they're so wily that virtually no native animals prey on them.

But humans are a different story: Davis, the trapper, eats a lot of pork.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.

[Last modified June 7, 2007, 01:12:52]


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