Our weekly roundup of Toasts & Roasts:

Feral hogs are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States today. Estimates by some wildlife experts say there are as many as nine million of the animals roaming the country, with almost half that number in Texas and neighboring Southern states. Nationally, the conservative cost estimate for the havoc they wreak is $2.5 billion annually. So we’re thrilled that Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, that allows Texas residents to kill feral hogs without a hunting license. Quite frankly, we’re surprised it took the state this long to reach this point. Feral hogs are unprotected, exotic, non-game animals, which means they may be taken by any means or methods at any time of year. There are no seasons or bag limits. During past legislative sessions, lawmakers also have approved hunting them from helicopters, hot air balloons and even flirted with the idea of using poisoned bait. Because feral hogs are omnivorous, their feeding behavior disrupts the entire food chain. Their wallowing disrupts native vegetation and make it easier for invasive species to take hold. Using their extra-long snouts, flattened and strengthened on the end by a plate of cartilage, they can root as deep as three feet. They erode soil and muddy streams and other water sources. The hogs claim any food set out for livestock, and occasionally eat the livestock as well, especially lambs, kids and calves. They also eat such wildlife as deer and quail and feast on the eggs of endangered sea turtles. Exacerbating the problem is that feral hogs have few natural predators. Bobcats and coyotes may occasionally take feral piglets or weakened animals, but are not large enough to challenge a full-grown boar. Larger potential predators like wolves, cougars and bears each have their own habitat problems. While programs exist to protect the weakened numbers of large predators, it’s going to take a long time for these animals to naturally repopulate their former habitat. A sow can become pregnant as early as six months old and give birth to multiple litters of piglets yearly. A mature feral hog may reach a shoulder height of 36 inches and weigh from 100 to more than 400 pounds. Feral hogs are intelligent and considered a challenging quarry by many hunters, and there are few inhibiting factors to curtail the population growth. The feral hog has managed to survive, adapt and increase their numbers despite attempts at population control. That’s why the goal of most wildlife specialists is not eradication, which few believe is possible, but control within an established range.

A toast goes out to the Central golf and baseball teams, which recently wrapped up some of their best seasons in school history. On the links, much of the talk surrounding the Central golf team was how 2020 might be their best legitimate hope of bringing home its first state title. With a team featuring no underclassmen, those expectations didn’t seem far away from reality. However, this year’s group of Bulldogs showed they weren’t going to sit back and use another trip to the state tournament as a learning experience. By the time the state tournament wrapped up, the Bulldogs were the third-place team in the state. Sophomore Cameron Hubbard finished in second place individually, while Jace Spencer had a Top 10 finish of his own. Brandt Butler, Morgan Hubbard and MaCay Maddox rounded out the team effort that put a scare into the best golf teams in the state.

The Bulldogs’ athletic success doesn’t end there. The Central baseball team just wrapped up the team’s longest playoff run since 1983. They made it to the regional finals in impressive fashion by sweeping Buna, Van Vleck, and Troy while also taking down Orangefield in three games. A regional final loss to state powerhouse Kirbyville shouldn’t diminish what was truly a special year.

And we certainly can’t forget about a coach that personified Central baseball for decades. Jack Lee officially retired from education after being with the school for 43 years. He led Central to the state championship in 1983 and also had more than 400 career wins. In addition to his success on the field, he made an impact on numerous students who walked the halls at Central High School. We wish him the best in his retirement.

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