Last Thursday morning I was early to rise, abuzz with excitement about my day’s first assignment. Although the weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight, with temperatures plunging into the 20s and a bone-chilling gust, I was prepared with extra layers of clothing and a few cups of hot coffee.
I made my way to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge around 7:30 a.m. that morning, the last day of the aerial hog hunt. The refuge had contracted a helicopter service for three days of aerial shooting to help rid the protected land of feral hogs, a dangerous invasive species.
After a brief exchange with the pilot, Avery Kibbe, I stood back and watched as the crew prepared for takeoff. The helicopter, an RV44 Raven I built for speed and performance, whirred loudly as a biting wind blew across my face and hands. As the aircraft ascended, I snapped dozens of photos with numb fingers.
The sight was astounding. The pilot deftly pivoted the helicopter and began flying north over a clearing, his path so low it seemed one could almost reach up and grab the skids.
As they reached the tree line, the helicopter gained altitude. Almost immediately, shots rang out and the aircraft disappeared again. My heart raced a little. Was there a problem? Did he do that on purpose?
At once, two large, black hogs crossed the threshold and bounded into the clearing. A moment later, the helicopter forebodingly rose again, now heading back my way. In one swift motion, the aircraft turned and took a nose-dive toward the fleeing hogs.
I was stuck in my own head, almost unable to process what I was seeing. With almost ten years of flying experience, Kibbe certainly knew what he was doing — still, his precise turns and skillful hovering just yards above the ground made me nervous. Crew members took aim as the helicopter circled nimbly above.
As reported, Hagerman’s depredation efforts resulted in the removal of 630 hogs from refuge property. Feral swine are responsible for damage to land, water supplies and native species that call the refuge home.
Though hunting is admittedly a touchy subject, even for me, it is important to understand that reducing invasive species is an act of conservation. To keep Hagerman safe and hospitable for the wildlife that depend on it, its natural beauty must be preserved.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
Happy birthday Wednesday to Louis Barron, Larry Howeth, Betty Piper, and Carol Thomas, all of Sherman; Judy Brown Nurre of Dallas; Jeana Ellis Pethel of Nocona; Steve Van Horn of Austin; James Rhome of Tyler; and Billie Jean Jennings and Tangie Rucker, both of Denison.