NORTH FORK – You may think federal trappers are something out of a bygone era. But Wildlife Specialist Randy Partch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been trapping and dealing with errant animals for the past 24 years and shared some of his knowledge and experiences with residents at a Town Hall meeting in North Fork last week.
“A lot of people envision a federal trapper as having tobacco juice running out of the corner of his mouth,” said Partch. “That may be the old days, but I take my job seriously, and do my best to protect your property or your livestock using non-lethal methods.”
Partch says he deals with everything from bears to skunks, and a myriad of critters in between. One of the biggest challenges he faces these days is wild pigs.
“Pigs are the most consistently inconsistent animal I’ve ever known,” says Partch. “Normally, when I deal with animals, I target a weakness or a feeding or territorial issue. But with pigs, even after 24 years, I don’t have a clue.”
Partch says wild pigs are not native to the United States, but were brought here by settlers, Spanish explorers, and even a hunter from Santa Cruz who, back in the 1920s, had 20 Russian boars shipped to him in California, and then released into the wild so he could hunt them.
“Most wild pigs are just domesticated animals that have gone feral,” says Partch, “and it’s horrible the amount of damage they can do.”
Partch says that most of the damage in the mountain area is on range land, and while that does have a dollar value to it, it’s when the wild pigs get into the lettuce and spinach fields in areas such as the Salinas Valley, that things can really get bad.
Not only do the pigs do major damage to the crops themselves, Partch says the e coli outbreak in the Hollister area was caused by pigs defecating in the fields, and the produce then being processed.
One of the reasons the wild pig problem has grown to such proportions is the rate at which they multiply.
“They start breeding at six months, and breed three times a year,” says Partch. “A sow may have a litter in January, and her offspring can start breeding in July or August. I trapped two sows down in the Raymond area, and they were both pregnant. They had eighteen between the two of them. Do the math; that paints a picture for you.”
So what can property owners can do if wild pigs are doing damage? There are several options. People can call Partch to help them out, they can invite hunters or the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) onto their property, or they can “dispatch” the animals themselves. The DFW has guidelines on their website for killing pigs and disposing of the carcasses.
“You can certainly eat them,” says Partch. “Any time I trap pigs, I try to utilize the meat. I have some farm workers that I give them to. The big boars you don’t want because they smell so bad, and they’re going to taste about like they smell. I’ve gotten sows that were just absolutely gorgeous when you process them. They’re good eating; you just have to remember they eat everything – dead cows, everything.”
Wild pigs are not the only animal that Partch deals with on his job.
“I do a lot of work for the schools,” he says. “These portable classrooms can be ready-made dens for skunks. During the breeding season, a female looks for a place to have her young, and gets under a portable classroom. Then the males get under there to fight for her affections and they spray each other. That’s usually when I get called.”
Partch tries to deal with bothersome animals with non-lethal methods, but that is not always an option.
“A lot of people want you to relocate the animal,” he says. “But there are laws against that, and with good reason. It has to do with disease. You’re transferring disease from one part of the county to another.
“You could have a rabies outbreak in Oakhurst, and not have it in North Fork, so if you start moving animals around, you spread the disease and kill a whole lot of animals, instead of humanely euthanizing the one or two animals you dealing with.”
Partch says that a lot of the situations in which he gets involved are caused by people.
“If you want to give an animal a death warrant, put some pet food out on the porch and leave it there,” he says. “It’s unfortunate, because once I get involved, I don’t have a choice; I can’t move that animal. People get upset and say ‘just take him someplace.’
“But the first thing that animal is going to do is look for a house, because that’s where it’s used to getting its food. That’s why they don’t relocate bears. Once a bear starts breaking into a house, you can take him hundreds of miles away, and he’ll be back.”
Bears, mountain lions, turkeys or deer, Partch says their fate is not up to him, but rather is up to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“They have control of those animals,” says Partch. “It’s their decision whether the animal is removed, and what they do with it. They don’t normally issue relocation permits for bears and mountain lions.”
The best way to protect wildlife is to not expose them to opportunities that will get them into trouble. But if there is a situation with a problem animal, residents can request Randy Partch’s services, free of charge, by calling 209-384-3146, or by contacting local animal control. Contact information is also available in Madera County by dialing 311.