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Michigan set to begin enforcing exotic swine ban

April 5, 2012 | 0 comments

Michigan officials began enforcing a ban Sunday (April 1) on exotic swine believed to have escaped from game preserves and wreaked havoc on farm fields and woodlands.

The Department of Natural Resources last October declared the swine an invasive species and ordered owners to get rid of them. The policy applies to Eurasian, Russian and razorback boars and similar breeds including hybrids, although opponents of the ban contend it's unclear which varieties are covered.

Regulators estimate that 3,000 to 5,000 feral hogs roam the state and root in the soil for food, damaging crops and natural areas. Aggressive and opportunistic, they gobble crops such as corn and hay and even attack livestock.

They're also accused of spreading diseases, destroying forest plants and outcompeting native wildlife for acorns and berries.

"Our primary goal is to get a handle on these animals before they become so widespread in the state that they do significant damage," DNR spokesman Ed Golder said. "As we've seen in the Great Lakes, once an invasive species becomes widespread, the results can be devastating."

Among supporters of the ban are the Michigan Environmental Council and a coalition of agriculture groups including the Michigan Pork Producers Association.

The DNR doesn't know how many farms and ranches have exotic swine but inspected about 60 last year, Golder said. Roughly half are believed to have removed the animals, he said.

Some game ranch owners contend the DNR exaggerates the number of feral swine on the loose. Five lawsuits challenging the order have been filed. One advanced as far as the Michigan Court of Appeals, which sided with the DNR.

Among the opponents are producers of unusual "heritage" swine breeds that are gaining popularity in high-end restaurants and specialty shops. They contend the ban was engineered by large agribusiness interests to eliminate smaller competitors, although the pork producers and their allies said they simply wanted to protect their livelihoods.

"As of Sunday ... other farmers across the state and I will be considered felons simply because we raise a certain breed of pigs behind fences on our farms," said Mark Baker of Missaukee County in the northern Lower Peninsula, who testified before the state Senate Agriculture Committee.

Baker raises hybrids of Mangalista boars, a heritage breed with a curly coat resembling sheep's fleece, and Russian sows.

In a letter this month, DNR Director Rodney Stokes told the American Mangalista Breeders Association the order would not pertain to pure Mangalistas because they don't have the physical characteristics of swine banned under the order.

But the letter said the ban would cover hybrids or genetic variants of prohibited swine - presumably including Baker's animals. He is among opponents suing the department.

Golder said the DNR's law enforcement division will decide how to enforce the order. It won't conduct mass raids of farms suspected of refusing to comply, he said.

"Our hope is to do voluntary inspections and work with property owners that might have prohibited swine so they can depopulate them in compliance with the law," Golder said. "Where we can't do that, we'll handle them on a case-by-case basis."

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