~Dr Gary Goforth displays two hand made bows, Atlantic Ridge. “Hiking with our kids on public lands throughout Florida opened my eyes to the extensive damage caused by feral hogs. Beautiful pristine landscapes all over the State were being destroyed by their aggressive rooting and predation. As an omnivore, they are opportunistic eaters – and are known to eat turkey eggs, beneficial snakes and even small fawns – in addition to roots and grubs. After seeing extensive hog damage during a hike at DuPuis Wildlife Management Area, my wife, Karen, turned to me and said – “You’ve got a bow – you should start hunting them!” So I did and we have enjoyed wonderful lean additive-free pork for years; now I feed the hungry.” Gary Goforth
Dr Gary Goforth is an incredible person with more than thirty-five years of experience in water engineering. I met Gary through the St Lucie River Movement. Recently he has been devoting time as a volunteer at Atlantic Ridge State Preserve. On March 10, 2021, I joined Gary; John Lakich, Johnathan Dickinson Park manager; Rob Rossmanith, Johnathan Dickinson Park biologist; and two South Florida Water Management representatives, Rory Feeney, bureau office chief-land management; and Gene Colwell, senior scientist. We met in the early morning at the entrance of Atlantic Ridge State Preserve off Paulson Road in Martin County.
Atlantic Ridge contains 5,747 acres and was acquired in 1999 with funding from the CARL/P2000 program, assistance of the South Florida Water Management District, and Martin County. The park is still coming into its own and updating its management plan, thus the help from Johnathan Dickinson.
Gary invited me as a governing board member of the SFWMD to see the beauty of these lands, but also to witness the overpopulation of feral hogs that is threatening the area. The goal? To turn a negative into a positive. Could we help spread the word about Atlantic Ridge and could we help Gary feed the hungry?”
~Below, JDSP, biologist, Rob Rossmanith briefs the group about hog destruction within Atlantic Ridge State Preserve within the context of the park’s Management Plan.Map of Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park
After our briefing, I followed Gary to a monster vehicle, climbed atop, and held on tight! As the rest of the crew took their spots we eased off into the pine forest and adjacent wetlands. I looked over the remarkable landscape of undeveloped pristine land. “This is beautiful!” I exclaimed. My heart stopped. I noticed very large areas of torn earth and uprooted vegetation. My eyes moved toward the horizon. Pocks filled the landscape. -Atop the monster vehicle: JTL, Rory Feeney, SFWMD; Rob Rossmanith, biologist JDSP; Gary Goforth, volunteer Atlantic Ridge; Park Ranger, John Lakich, JDSP.-Note destruction of lands due to wild hogs along pathway and deep within forest.The joy I felt earlier had diminished. After a about twenty minutes, we disembarked.
“We have one large electronic trap on the property” Gary explained. “I manage it on my cell phone. We could use five more.”
The men talked of various types of traps.
Gene Colwell and Rory Feeney shared tips of the trade. John spoke about long-standing hog issues at Jonathan Dickinson. As they interacted, I kept hearing expressions like “out-smart,” “probably in the palmettos,” “intelligent,” “cannot eradicate.”
I continued walking; the damage was everywhere I looked. I took pictures and searched for hiding hogs. I brushed a palmetto bush, hoping one would come crashing out. They remained quiet. I looked up to the sky. I love all God’s creatures, but this hog destruction situation was truly horrible. Where would it stop? -SFWMD senior scientist, Gene Colwell, shares tips form the SFWMD. The SFWMD is partial owner of the Atlantic Ridge lands. Wild pigs were introduced to Florida in the 1500 by the Spanish and no one can deny them their success. The problem is, they’ve been so successful that they are wrecking it for everything else.
The photograph below from the Florida Wildlife Commission displays the pointed snout, a multi-use tool, that allows hogs to be very successful.
Gary taught me that a group of females and piglets is called a “sounder.” Males are solitary except during breeding season. A female has two litters of 1–13 piglets per year, usually 5-7. She can bear young at 6-8 months and her gestation period is 114 days. According to the 2020 Feral Pig Working Group, Florida is only second to Texas in wild hog population. 2020-WPC-State-Update_Florida
Gary and the officials from JDSP also explained that public hunting in Florida state parks is forbidden. So the hogs that Gary hunts by bow are hunted outside of the park. As an Atlantic Ridge volunteer, Gary captures the wild hogs in traps, humanely euthanizes them, and then shares the meat with those in need.
“As a volunteer with Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park I helped with hog trapping and it was heartbreaking to see the ranger dispatch the trapped hogs and then leave this wonderful meat for the coyotes and vultures. The nearest butcher associated with a wild game food bank was in Arcadia, and I actually made the 5-hr round trip to deliver a dispatched hog. I couldn’t find any local or statewide food bank that would accept wild hog. There are a lot of misperceptions about the potential risk of human diseases from eating wild hog. It is true that, just like domestic pets and livestock, small percentages of wild hogs carry brucellosis and trichinosis. The good news is that observing common sanitary practices while handling the animals and preparing the meat are adequate to ensure minimal risks. Nationwide, the CDC estimates that of the 3,000 deaths associated with food-borne diseases, it is likely that only 1 is related to brucellosis and trichinosis – and this could have been from contact with domestic animals. Statewide, the Florida Game Commission estimates that 40,000-50,000 wild hags are harvested by hunters each year, and the Dept. of Health reports deaths from hog-related disease is exceptionally rare (1 hunter in the last 10 years.)
In the last couple of months I renewed my efforts to find charitable organizations that would accept wild hogs. After countless phone calls, I located three organizations that feed the hungry with wild hogs I’ve trapped at Atlantic Ridge Park. In the last month I’ve delivered over 1,500 lbs of hog – enough fresh lean meat to serve over 2,100 meals!” ~Gary Goforth
What can people do to help? Help us connect organizations that feed the hungry with great free range, locally sourced lean meat!
- If they belong to an organization that feeds the hungry (a church, charity, etc.) and have the ability to process a whole hog into meals, have them contact me at 772 223-8593!
- If they are a butcher and would be willing to donate a couple of hours to process a whole hog into roasts, shoulders and other cuts, have them contact me at 772 223-8593! Once processed the meat would be donated to organizations that feed the hungry.
- If they could ask their butcher if they would be willing to donate a couple of hours to process a whole hog into roasts, shoulders and other cuts, have them contact me at 772 223-8593! Once processed the meat would be donated to organizations that feed the hungry.
- If they have a pickup truck and would be willing to deliver dispatched hogs from AR Park to a butcher or charitable organization, have them contact me at 772 223-8593!
Kudos to Gary Goforth, feeding the hungry, one wild hog at a time, and keeping Atlantic Ridge beautiful!