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Judge Throws Out Pig Ban

File photo of banned pig. CREDIT: Peter Payette.
Peter Payette
File photo of banned pig. CREDIT: Peter Payette.

A circuit court judge in the Upper Peninsula says Michigan’s ban on wild hogs is unconstitutional. Judge Thomas Solka says there is no way for hog farmers to know whether the pigs they own violate the rule set up by the Department of Natural Resources.

Friday’s ruling is the first substantial opinion in a set of cases that sprang from a rule the DNR made in 2010. It declared certain breeds of pigs an invasive species.

State wildlife officials say hogs have escaped from private hunting ranches and are spawning a wild pig population that will do extensive damage to Michigan’s fields and forests.

The pigs of concern are usually called Russian or Eurasian boars. These are hairy animals with tusks that are often hunted at private, fenced-in ranches.

In 2011, the DNR published a list of characteristics and told farmers and ranchers that a pig exhibiting even one of these characteristics could be a prohibited pig. Farmers and ranchers likened this approach to saying, “We’ll know them when we see them.”

Judge Solka essentially agreed, though he put it in legal terms. He called the enforcement scheme “unreasonable and arbitrary,” noting a pig might exhibit some of the characteristics listed but not be deemed an invasive species by a wildlife official.

Solka was not convinced wild pigs are a different species from domestic ones, which is what the state claims. The state’s expert witnesses seemed to undercut the DNR’s position on this question.

In his ruling, Solka quoted generously from multiple experts—scientists relied upon by the state—who cast doubt on the idea that domestic pigs are a distinct species. One said an attempt to classify some pigs as domestic “flies in the face of scientific taxonomy as interbreeding can and does occur in these groups.”

Regardless, the judge ruled the pigs in question are domestic, whatever their breed.

Glen Smith, the attorney for the farm and the hunting ranch involved, says that’s because his clients’ animals are behind fences.

“They’re raised right up until the point of harvest under the husbandry of man,” says Smith. “Under any definition that is a domesticated animal.”

The judge did acknowledge the danger posed by a wild pig population and the state's authority to manage for invasive species.

DNR spokesman Ed Golder says they’re disappointed they couldn’t convince the judge of the danger of particular hog breeds. Golder says this isn’t about whether pigs are wild or bred in captivity.

“We’ve always contended that Russian boar are the problem,” says Golder. “Those are the animals we know are out in the wild.”

The state has 21 days to appeal. The ruling is stayed pending the outcome of any appeal.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.