In 2010, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment signed an order that would ban and require the execution of swine that met certain physical characteristics classifying them as non-native, or feral, due to the fact that they destroyed the environment and carried disease. While many of these pigs were used for sport hunting on ranches, some families raised them for food.
One such farm is Bakers Green Acres, which is currently fighting against the order going into effect April 1. If they don't comply with getting rid of the hogs before this Sunday, authorities could come in and take care of it for them.
On Dec. 10, 2010, (Department of Natural Resources) DNR Director at the time Rebecca Humphries (Rodney Stokes is the current director) signed the order that made feral swine and wild boar an invasive species in Michigan. In doing so, once the ban goes into effect it will be illegal to possess "wild or feral boar/swine/hog, Old World swine, razorback, Eurasian wild boar and Russian wild boar" for any purpose. The DNR states the swine had been seen in every county in Michigan and are reported to "pose a significant risk to Michigan's wildlife, ecosystems and agricultural resources, and they are a serious disease threat to humans, wildlife and domesticated pigs," according to Humphries.
The ban was originally set to go into effect in June 2011 but was pushed back. Since that time, game ranchers and livestock farmers have protested the requirment. Even rock musician Ted Nugent, who is also an avid Michigan hunter, has called for the state to enact more stringent regulations on farms with the swine, instead of issuing a ban all together. Here's what Nugent, who owns a game hunting ranch himself, said about the issue in the summer of 2011:
"People have lost their minds in Michigan. If there are 7,000 pigs running around Michigan, I'm a gay banjo player in a hee-haw band," Nugent said, according to the MIRS report.
Nugent said it is unfair "to paint responsible game ranches with irresponsible ones that let their animals roam free," according to the MIRS report. "It is killing an industry that brings hundreds of thousands of tourism dollars to the state every year, Nugent said."
At the end of 2011, only 105 pigs had been killed, according to reports. MLive reported earlier this week that the hope was over the winter enough hunters would kill the pigs, which were still considered legal game. Ed Golder, a DNR spokesman, is reported as estimating half of the operations so far have depopulated their farms.
Are there other motivations behind the ban?
Golder said the department hopes each farm will voluntarily take care of their animals and notes it will be making inspections of farms known to have had the swine once the ban goes in place. he went on to say the department is in litigation with several farms, one of which is Bakers Green Acres.
A story on that farm -- located in Marion, Mich. -- by Natural News suggests the DNR was not just motivated by the health and environmental issues associated with the swine but pressure from larger pork corporations. The Michigan Pork Producers Association supports the ban, stating if they allowed to continue, proliferation the wild boar and feral pigs could "endanger thousands of jobs and Michigan's entire agriculture sector."
Mark Baker of Bakers Green Acres farm also believes the "Big Pork Industry" is behind this and produced this documentary of their own rural operation to state their case. Watch it here:
An issue beyond Michigan
While this may seem a localized issue, Pennsylvania proposed a similar ban six years ago and several other states such as New York are considering one as well. The flip side to Mark Baker's story, who believes he will lose his livelihood with the ban, are other farms experiencing crop decimation and diseased livestock, which they attribute to the wild pigs. The Philadelphia Inquirer recounts a recent story of one of its local farmers who had this experience:
Tom Barkman, a Bedford County dairy farmer, got a shock one morning a few years ago when a 15-acre section of his just-planted cornfield was ripped to shreds, the seeds gone.
The culprits, he would soon find out: a group, or sounder, of feral swine, 300-pound crop consumers that destroy most everything in their path.
They were escapees, he believed, from a neighboring game-hunting preserve.
So Barkman, who owns 600 acres in Clearview, 100 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, replanted the field - not once but two more times, before grabbing his shotgun and finally staking out his field.
"There was a gob of them, maybe 30," said Barkman, who managed to shoot two.
He never again had a problem with crop damage. But he soon had something else to worry about: the well-being of his livestock.
He began noticing a suspicious number of deaths among his dairy calves and figured their killers were the feral hogs. He was so fearful he shipped the calves to another farm to be raised.
Last year, Mississippi State University helped made a documentary on the "Feral Swine Pandemic". Here it is in three parts:
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, feral swine have been spotted in 39 states and their population is estimated at 4 million. The pigs are considered prolific breeders, contributing to some concern over their spread. A National Geographic feature reports that "native" pigs were first brought to the United States by the Spanish in the 1530s and the species now lumped into "non-native" and "invasive" feral swine, which can grow up to 500 pounds, were introduced in the early 1900s.
"Where does it end?"
What Mark Baker worries about on a larger scale -- even beyond his operation -- is the classification of the pigs as an "invasive species." He said that if "Michigan gets away with this [...] where does it end?"
Others also worry about how the swine will be targeted as "feral," which will be largely based on their looks because it would be too costly to genetically differentiate them. Identification will be based on characteristics such as its coat, striped hair as a piglet, tail and ear structure, and skeletal appearance.
A blog post on the Baker farm website states the belief that the animals found on farms should not be considered "feral" given the definition of the term and that they are under the farmer's care.
Some, including State Senator of the 35th District Dawrin Booher, have also said that the DNR is acting outside of its mission in involving itself in private farming practices.
"I believe it was a mistake for the DNR to involve itself in an agricultural issue that is not associated whatsoever with its mission," he said. "The DNR is charged with management of game and wildlife owned by the public – not the regulation of privately-owned animals. That is the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development."
Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, seconded this notion, saying in a phone interview with the Blaze that the DNR regulates hunting and fishing. He said they shouldn't have regulatory power on farms. Kennedy also said the the problem of feral swine is being blown out of proportion by lobbying groups.
Kennedy contacted the Blaze to tell us that Baker had testified before the Michigan state Senate yesterday for an extension on the impending ban, but was denied.
Tell us your thoughts on the feral pig issue in the comments section.
Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to incorporate information from Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
[H/T: Blaze reader]