Merry Point residents who are frustrated with the destruction and threats from roaming pigs and with the lack of action from the county helped pack the house at Lancaster’s board meeting last week.
The problem, they explained, stems from Janice Baylor who has an unkempt property that lies on both sides of Iberis Rd. They allege she has about a dozen dilapidated boats sitting in Bells Creek and about 40 broken down vehicles, including some with trees growing through them that the county has ignored. But her expanding pig population has reached emergency status and now the county needs to act.
Living amongst pigs
Not only are there over 100 pigs free roaming and often blocking the road, but Baylor’s neighbors say the animals are highly destructive.
Robert Wheatley and his wife moved from New York City believing Merry Point was perfect. But now “the pig population is out of control” spanning across peoples’ property and “infesting” the forestland and ravines along the wetlands. “We used our life savings to build a home here,” he told the board.
Abby Cruikshank lives on the property adjoining Baylor’s. She explained that there are two ravines on the sides of the property and the pigs hang out in wallows and the runoff goes straight into the creek.
And the Cruikshanks have seen extensive damage to their property, including uprooted cables, ruined planted beds, and areas, including one around her propane tank, that have been completely turned into wallows. All of the turtles are gone, she said.
It’s horrendous what the pigs have done to the Cruikshank’s property, said neighbor Karen Kingsley who has her own list of incidents.
In addition to finding about pigs in her backyard one day, there’s a pig she named Gertie that has dug trenches from the Baylor property to hers, a distance of about half a mile. She’s also been observing a group of pigs that “apparently live in the right-of-way.”
“I don’t even know what to say to you people if you think this is just honky-dory and [Baylor] just needs more time. Those pigs are not going anywhere,” she stressed.
“My community is almost two miles away and those pigs have come to my neighborhood. I want you to know it is spreading all through the neighborhood,” Chuck Russneck told the board.
Wildlife biologist weighs in
The Merry Point residents have valid reason to worry and so does the county, according to Todd Englemeyer, a wildlife biologist with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
The homeowners pressed and successfully got the board to allow him to give a presentation at the meeting because he’s well aware of the problem in Merry Point.
Wild pigs are “the worse invasive species in the world,” Englemeyer said. They forage, trample, and wallow. They eat nearly anything near the ground and will go after food sources deep underground. Pigs will wipe out native species of plants and eat other wildlife or their eggs. And they’re aggressive and don’t co-exist with other species.
Englemeyer reported cases where feral hogs cleared an entire cornfield field and turned thousands of acres into “a big hog pit.”
Further, they can carry disease and pathogens that are transmitted to humans and other animals. Some of those conditions are fatal to pets and livestock and some spread quick, he explained.
For a close-by example, Englemeyer offered a case in Northumberland where wildlife authorities came in and trapped 60 pigs. That effort took over three years, eight staff members, and more than $100,000 in expenses. Pseudo-rabies was detected in that group.
Definitions and ordinance problems
Merry Point residents say their pig problem has been ignored too long and they want immediate action. But Lancaster is “in a really tough spot.”
For starters, Lancaster is a “fence-out” county meaning property owners are required to erect barriers to keep animals out.
That needs to change, the Merry Point residents say. If the county becomes “fence-in” the burden would be on owners to keep their animals within their boundaries.
Furthermore, DWR can trap and shoot feral pigs. Some of Baylor’s neighbors have been referring to the herd she claims as feral, and some of the animals would fit the normal definition based on their characteristics and behavior. But Virginia code defines feral by ownership, which means animals are not feral if someone is willing to claim them.
Time not on the county’s side
Lancaster has an ordinance for animals roaming at large. In recent months, every time animal control is called and pigs are found in the road Baylor has been cited. She has racked up over a dozen charges, and the court required her to put up a fence. She is scheduled to return to court on October 6.
“I’ll say this [speaking] for myself, said Lancaster Board Chairman Ernest Palin, “We just can’t trample over other people’s rights. Even though there are things going on, there are laws in place to handle those. And sometimes it takes time to get things corrected.”
He acknowledged the process may be lengthy and compared it to a criminal going back and forth through the court system.
“We are acting on it. It may not be moving as fast as you like,” said Palin. And “I would probably feel the same way if I was in your shoes, but it’s going to take time…What we have on the books is working,” he insisted.
According to Englemeyer, time is not on the county’s side. Pigs become reproductive at six to eight months of age and have two litters per year with four to 12 pigs. They’re one of the most reproductive animals next to rodents.
Englemeyer said if Lancaster wants help all they need to do is ask.
“The money is there. The personnel is there. There resources are there to do the work. I just want to leave you with that,” he said.