Judge Dismisses Lawsuits Over Farming Russian Boar
A judge ruled yesterday that a McBain farmer does not have to pay $700,000 for keeping a banned breed of hog.
But he and other farmers, some who packed the courtroom, worry it could happen again. That's because the decision did not address whether a Michigan invasive species law is fair or not.
Why Farm Russian Boar?
Mark Baker says he had good business reasons to start inter-breeding Russian boar with the pigs on his farm.
"They're pretty hardy in the winter," he says. "They're good mothers. They're very prone to good health. They're not susceptible to catching a lot of the swine diseases that plague the state of Michigan."
But the Department of Natural Resources says the breed is an invasive species.
Last year, they ordered Baker to get rid of them or face $10,000 in fines for each pig and the case ended up in court.
The DNR inexplicably just did a complete 180. -- Michelle Halley.
But in November, Baker slaughtered a male that was 50 percent Russian boar. In turn, the state sought to dismiss the case and drop the fines for the remaining hogs.
"He has said in court filings that he no longer has Russian boar," says Ed Golder, a DNR spokesman. "We have no interest in pursuing further enforcement and we've argued that the court shouldn't really hear Mr. Baker's remaining claims because they're based on facts that no longer exist."
The rest of his pigs each have less than half of the prohibited breed's DNA and on Wednesday afternoon, a Missaukee County judge agreed with the DNR and closed the case.
While the farmer is glad he can keep his remaining pigs, he had hoped to clarify which hogs are legal and which aren't.
His lawyer, Michelle Halley, says the state's policies are still too broad and vague.
"The DNR inexplicably just did a complete 180," she says. "There's no scientific basis for what they just did and there's no factual basis for what they just did."
The concerns go way beyond Baker's farm.
Russ Lapham came up from the Lansing area to show his support.
"I think the people feel the DNR are treading on everyone's personal rights," Lapham says. "They're coming on private property and administering their rules and regulations, as opposed to public property."
He accused the state of prohibiting the pigs on behalf of large corporate farms.
But the DNR says the real reason is that Russian boars are a non-native pig that can already be found roaming wild in almost every county.
They're said to cause environmental damage and hunters are allowed to shoot them whenever they see them.
The concern is that the boars will escape their pens and add to what Golder says is a problem.
"Russian boar were brought into the state primarily for the purpose of being on hunting ranches and we know they've escaped from those hunting ranches," he says.
Baker and his attorney plan to discuss whether to appeal their case's dismissal.
He would like to recoup the $250,000 investment he says the legal fight has cost him.
"We're going to consider our options of taking this to the appellate level," Baker says. "This has done a great deal of damage to my family and my farming operation and we need to be made whole on this."
But he'd also like a reassurance that he and others won't face the same problems in the future.
He might, however, get an answer next month. Another judge is expected to rule on three cases brought by another attorney on behalf of two hunting estates and a farmer.
They all face penalties for the same breed.