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Michigan Feral Swine Saga: DNR Strikes Back

August 9th, 2013

You may recall the hullabaloo over the DNR naming of certain swine, Russian Wild Boar, as prohibited invasive species back in 2010 under then Director Becky Humphries. That order was delayed in its effective date until October 2011 and only started being enforced in April 2012 (See Timeline of the Swine Saga from March 2012).

MUCC has been on board with this move—our member-driven policy resolution from 2008 demands aggressive action to eliminate and prevent the establishment of feral swine in Michigan.

Feral swine can reproduce quickly and as “nomadic rototillers” can tear up crops and native landscapes; impact wildlife directly by feeding upon ground nesting birds, fawns, and other small animals; and spread diseases like pseudorabies, brucellosis, and Bovine Tb. While we may “only” have 1,000-3,000 feral swine here in Michigan now, we have seen from other states what this population can balloon to if nothing is done now.

2012 Feral Swine Sightings and Kills, Michigan DNR

2012 Feral Swine Sightings and Kills, Michigan DNR

Some wild boar producers and game ranches have been challenging this order in the courts. Senator Darwin Booher (R-Evart) has one constituent, Mark Baker, who has made a name for himself via social media claiming he has been harassed unnecessarily by the DNR for owning the very pigs this order is designed to eliminate.

Last month, Senator Booher wrote an opinion editorial criticizing the DNR for doing their job—the DNR was granted the authority to add species to the prohibited invasive species list just a couple of legislative sessions ago through Public Act 52 of 2009 with near unanimous support in the legislature.

MUCC would like to share with our readers the DNR’s response (below) to Sen. Booher’s op-ed, which we feel provides a good update on the situation at hand.

The court cases are not complete and the swine saga is likely not over yet. New bills were introduced this summer, namely Senate Bill 445  looking to repeal the DNR’s authority to add to the prohibited species list,  along with a package of bills–House Bills 4861-64–led by Representative Ed McBroom that could be used to regulate sporting swine facilities similar to captive cervid game farms.

Stay tuned!

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Response to Senator Booher’s recent op-ed from the DNR’s Ed Golder. Ed Golder is the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

 

Sen. Darwin Booher’s recent op-ed regarding invasive swine in Michigan downplays a growing and critical problem for the state. Sen. Booher offers no reasonable solution to protect and defend Michigan’s farms, forests and fields from this aggressive invader, and he ignores and omits important facts. I’d like to set the record straight.

Sen. Booher writes that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has “arbitrarily” banned “select breeds of pigs.” In fact, there was nothing arbitrary about the 2010 Invasive Species Order that prohibits a very specific type of pig – the Russian boar.

These animals, which are dangerous and can harbor diseases, were brought into the state to be hunted. Over time, Russian boar made their way into the wild. We know that at least some escaped from game ranches. The result has been a growing, breeding population of feral swine – that is, swine not in captivity. While it is true, as Sen. Booher writes, that any pig can become feral, Michigan’s problem is not with just any pig. Our problem is with Russian boar.

This is borne out by the results of a trapping program conducted by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services. The program catches feral swine across the state. In fact, feral swine have been spotted in 76 of Michigan’s 83 counties. Almost all of the pigs captured or killed are Russian boar or hybrids of Russian boar.

Invasive swine may carry disease to domestic livestock, root up farm fields, even eat upland game birds, small mammals and fawns. Southern states such as Texas, Mississippi and Florida have watched feral pigs become an expensive plague, estimated to cost the United States $1.5 billion a year. This threat is the reason that a broad coalition of groups continues to support the prohibition on Russian boar in Michigan.

The coalition includes Michigan’s largest conservation group, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, as well as the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy. Also supporting the Invasive Species Order is a large group of agricultural organizations, including the Michigan Pork Producers Association, the Michigan Milk Producers Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, Potato Growers of Michigan and Michigan Agri-Business Association.

Michigan knows about invasive species. The Asian carp continues to threaten our Great Lakes. It’s worth noting – and remembering – that Asian carp came into the Mississippi River basin from fish stocking ponds where they were supposedly being held “captive.” Now they are threatening incalculable harm to the world’s greatest freshwater lakes system. “Captive” invasives – whether four-footed or finned – pose just as great a threat to our state as those that are in the wild.

Throughout the process that led to the Invasive Species Order, the DNR sought to find a reasonable solution. The DNR supported sensible legislation that would have provided adequate fence regulations to make sure Russian boar did not get into the wild. The legislation passed in the state House of Representatives. It was Sen. Booher and his colleagues who failed to move that legislation through the Senate.  With no reasonable alternatives to protect the state’s natural resources against this threat, the DNR had to declare the Russian boar an invasive species under Michigan law.

Russian boar were not legal one day and illegal the next, as Sen. Booher suggests. The DNR understood the potential impact that the Invasive Species Order could have on some individuals. As a result, the DNR delayed the effective date of the Invasive Species Order for 10 months and then delayed enforcement for an additional six months. This time was meant to allow the Legislature time to come up with an alternative solution, as well as to give affected individuals time to adjust their business practices.

Sen. Booher defends one particular local farmer, Mark Baker of Missaukee County, while ignoring the concerns of a much larger group of farmers and conservationists. But DNR policies must encompass the interests of all farmers and protect the state’s natural resources for the benefit of all Michigan residents.

Sen. Booher accuses the DNR and the Michigan Attorney General’s office of continually seeking to “delay” Mr. Baker’s court case. However, many of the delays in Mr. Baker’s case have been the result of his attorney’s actions. If Mr. Baker is eager for a quick resolution, it’s surprising that his attorneys have missed by more than a year the court-imposed deadline for naming expert witnesses.

Mr. Baker and Sen. Booher continue to try to confuse citizens by suggesting that “heritage” breeds of swine have been made illegal in Michigan. That is simply not so. Every type of pig is legal to raise in Michigan except Russian boar and Russian boar hybrids – the very type of pig Mr. Baker has openly admitted to owning.

Given Mr. Baker’s admission, Sen. Booher’s complaints about “subjective characteristics” used to identify Russian boar are nonsensical. Mr. Baker himself has identified the type of pig he owns, as could any farmer.

The DNR will continue to work closely with our partners in the Legislature to identify needed protections for Michigan’s farmers, citizens and world-class natural resources. We’ll look forward to constructive proposals from Sen. Booher that will advance those goals.

  • Laura Livingston

    The description by the DNR of the illegal pigs that I read do describe just about any pig other than the white commercial pigs with docked tails that are in the huge confinement operations. It doesn’t say Russian Boar specifically, but has a description of any colored pig with a curly or strait tail, etc., etc.,….

  • guest

    MUCC is acting like nothing more than a DNR brown-noser on the state’s feral swine issue. Since
    2010 when DNR used the “Invasive Species Act” to harass farmers from across the state instead of addressing the so called (possibly non-existent) “feral swine problem” this whole situation has been a scientific and biological joke making the Michigan DNR Staff the laughing stock of biologists and scientists from across the country.

    DNR, and MUCC, continue to miss the boat entirely. If either of them were serious about the problem, they would be helping to solve it by promoting two simple things. Shooting feral swine and using the current law to prosecute those who purposefully allow swine to become feral. Those are the clear solutions to this problem.

    Instead, what does the DNR do? supported by MUCC–spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to harass and prosecute innocent people like Mark Baker that have done nothing but try to run a small farm by raising specialty market animals.

    The two concerns DNR cites about feral hogs are ecosystem destruction and disease spread. Fine –
    nobody wants to see either of those things occur. The logic disjunct here is that Mark Baker’s pigs don’t cause either. They live behind a fence, not in the wild. And they are veterinarian-certified disease-free.

    I hope those from the hunting and fishing community realize that their money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more along with countless DNR staff hours and DNR Law Enforcement hours has been spent defending DNR’s idiotic Invasive Species Order and Declaratory Ruling, prosecuting those that have done nothing wrong.

    With the worse part being, MUCC, following along like sheep, supporting all of it.

  • tjriegle

    I disagree with the portrayal of MUCC as ‘DNR brown-nosers” in regards to feral swine. I have seen a little of the damage they can cause here in Michigan and friends in other states have hunted them in farmland. The problem is that they are loose, not the specific species. #They are legal to hunt with any license outside a fenced area.# If hunting them is so easy, why aren’t more people doing it? Swine in general are smart enough to take advantage of poor fencing; no one is suggesting the animals were released on purpose that I have heard. Much of the ‘harassment’ by the DNR has to do with checking on ‘game ranches’ as well as those who supply these ranches and their ability to keep their (owned) animals in check. The fact that there are swine sightings throughout Michigan would indicate this is NOT an isolated problem with a single ranch/breeder.

  • Bruce Tesone Lucky Buck Lodge

    Anyone who has hunted pigs in the south where they are described as a plague as I have knows how fast this will get completely out of control. I get the impression that some of these posts were written by your typical anti DNR types who oppose anything the DNR does. I suppose you think Asian Carp aren’t a problem either!

    Describing this as a “non-existent problem” and saying that it’s a “scientific and biological joke making the Michigan DNR staff the laughing stock of biologists and scientists from across the country” is blatantly false and shows a complete lack of credibility. Every hunter passing through my lodge supports the DNR on this issue as does every farmer I know, and we all will shoot every feral pig we see as we have been encouraged to do by the DNR.

    This is one of those problems that needs to be prevented as solving it after the fact is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube as they say. Southern states are spending lots of money with little success trying to deal with this issue so getting out in front of it is paramount.

    Kudos to the DNR and MUCC for their efforts!

  • Andy Evans

    I wouldn’t wish wild Russian boars on my worst enemy. Just watch one of the “Pig Bomb” shows, and see if you disagree.

    Since the Legislature was unable to agree on fence regulations to prevent boar escapes, the DNR had no choice left but to take action – to prevent yet another invasive species from trashing our outdoors.

    Ideally no businesses would have been impacted, but this is a case where action needed to be taken, for the greater good. The Russian boar is a threat to much of our economy here in Michigan.

    Shoot to kill, my friends.

  • mh adams

    Please! Follow the money here. CAFOs are big business and have big money behind them. They want the little guy out. Look at what has happened to the mom and pop businesses on main street of most towns. These folks don’t care about invasive swine. The powers that be hate the fact that American farmers own so much land (among other things). This is just the start of what’s ahead. Do we all want to hunt and fish on public land. SMARTEN UP! Geeze!

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