By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
Teresa Gravlee’s garden is ready to plant ... except, she has no plans or desire for a garden in that spot.
It was not a tractor or tiller that plowed up the ground on her property in Gardendale; it was wild hogs.
North Jefferson County has been plagued with the animals in recent years, even in heavily populated areas like Gravlee’s property — she lives just behind K-Mart. Some residents have trapped or killed a few hogs, but it has not stopped them or the destruction they have caused.
The problem escalated to the point that the city brought in a wildlife expert last year — Alabama Cooperative Extension Service Agent Andrew Baril — to educate residents about the animals.
Gravlee has been battling the hogs for three years, but she said the damage this year is far more widespread than ever before. The south end of her yard, which adjoins to a wooded area, is filled with trenches and holes up to six inches deep.
“It’s something I can’t explain to people,” she said. “It’s just something you have to see for yourself to believe.”
One night last week, Gravlee ran the pack of animals — she said there are 10 to 15 of them — out of her yard four times by banging metal lids together and turning on a flood light.
She said officials keep telling her to fence off her property in order to keep the animals out, but she said she can not afford a fence. And even if she could, she thinks the city should do more to deal with the problem, which also affects other people.
But Mayor Othell Phillips said the city is limited on what it can do, because much of the problem is on private property.
“The city has no authority to go on private property,” he said.
Baril, the extension agent, knows what to do, but the answer requires the cooperation of landowners in the area.
“Now is the time when we can start setting traps in the creek bottom,” he said.
The hogs are foraging more now, he said, because most of the acorns that fell in October have been consumed by hogs, deer, squirrels and turkeys.
And although they travel to higher areas to eat, the animals live in low areas where creeks exist.
He said large traps, which hold a whole family — or sounder — of hogs are the key to eliminating the problem. The traps hold up to 20 hogs.
The whole family must be caught at the same time.
“If you leave one female, and she meets up a male, you will be back in the same situation a year later,” Baril said.
Night-vision cameras are set up near the traps so observers can make sure every hog in the family is inside the trap before the door is set to close.
Although now is the time to trap the wild hogs plaguing north Jefferson, there is one good reason Baril is not trapping them at this moment.
“The issue is cost,” Baril said. “Who is going to pay for it?”
He said that sometimes, the owner of the land where the hogs have chosen to make their home ends up eating the cost. He said it is similar to when a person’s livestock gets loose and causes damage; the owner is responsible.
However, “these are wild, so no one claims them. It’s a community problem,” Baril said. “The homeowners [where the hogs damage property] are not going to pay for it, except for repairing their property. The city often picks up part of the tab.”
Baril said the trap itself costs a few hundred dollars, but the real expense is night-vision cameras, which sometimes get stolen and must be replaced.
Baril said he is working on the problem with Mayor Phillips, and that the mayor has gotten permission from some landowners for traps to be set.
Phillips said this week he has not yet received an estimate on the cost of trapping the hogs.
At Monday’s Gardendale City Council meeting, resident Kermit Dooley asked what is being done about the hog problem.
Council President Stan Hogeland said the city will announce a plan during the April 15 city council meeting.
State law does not permit the transport of live hogs, according to Baril, so they will be killed when they are trapped.
They are edible, and reportedly taste great.