In a highly controversial decision, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller just approved the use of a new poison developed specifically for use on hogs. Will this be a decisive step on the road to victory in the war on hogs? Or will it lead to a bunch of unintended consequences down the road that are even worse than the damage hogs are causing to the state of Texas?

Known commercially as "Kaput," the new poison uses the blood thinner warfarin as an active ingredient. It's commonly used in medications for humans and has a long history as a rat poison. Apparently, wild hogs are sensitive to it as well.

Under the new rules, only licensed pest control agents could legally use the poison in special feeders accessible only to adult hogs to prevent other animals from accidentally consuming it. In addition to this precaution, the producers of Kaput claim it presents minimal risk to nontarget species like deer, coyotes, bear, birds and pets because virtually all other animals can safely consume a much higher dose than a hog.

They also claim that all the poison is metabolized prior to the death of the animal, so even a vulture or a coyote eating a dead hog would not be harmed by any lingering warfarin in the carcass. Even so, Vitamin K may be used as an antidote for an animal that inadvertently consumes the poison (like a pet dog).

As I've discussed at length in previous posts (here and here) regarding the growing feral swine epidemic in Texas, the problem is getting worse and may be beyond our ability to manage with traditional hunting and trapping methods alone. Unfortunately, I think it's going to be impossible to solve the hog problem without some sort of new weapon to bring to the fight.

For instance, even with minimal restrictions (no closed season, no bag limits, legalized hunting from helicopters, etc.), hunters and trappers are currently only harvesting about 28 percent of the hog population annually in Texas. Now, harvesting 750,000 hogs annually is nothing to sneer at. But when that's out of an estimated total of around 2.6 million in the state (as of 2011), there is still clearly a lot of work to be done.

In fact, according to estimates by researchers at Texas A&M, that rate of harvest means the hog population will double about every five years. In order to keep the population from growing (never mind actually reducing their numbers), these same researchers estimate that 66 percent of the population must be removed annually.

Even if there were absolutely no restrictions on hunting feral hogs, even if every landowner opened up their property to free hog hunting and trapping by the general public, and even if the state instituted a bounty on hogs, I sincerely doubt that hunters and trappers could triple the number of hogs they remove.

Does this mean poison is the answer to the swine problem in Texas?

That really all depends on whether it works as advertised. There are always unforeseen consequences anytime a new, potentially lethal chemical like that is introduced to the environment. Regardless of how hard we try, other animal species are going to end up consuming some of the poison.

What will happen to them when they do? Will warfarin end up contaminating water sources or crops directly from the bait or from the feces of hogs that eat it? What the heck will happen to a person who eats a wild hog that had consumed some of the poison, but not enough to kill it?

The problems feral swine are causing in Texas are well documented, so it's vital to the long prospects of the state that we come up with a solution to the problem. But we need to make sure we don't actually create an even bigger problem while dealing with the hogs.

I really hope this poison works as intended with minimal side effects. However, I'm not optimistic that things will turn out that way.