Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

July 28, 2013

Wild hog rules: Some farmers upset about restrictions

CEDAR — Reid Johnston is a Cedar-area farmer who's thinking about raising hybrid hogs for specialty meats, a potential niche business to feed area restaurants and farmers markets.

“It’s something I’d really like to do,” Johnston said. “Unless you want to be huge, you can’t make a living doing the status quo. You have to do something different.”

But Johnston has concerns about getting into the hybrid pig business when he looks at the Michigan officials' recent efforts to eradicate feral swine. He points to a battle between the state and another hybrid pig farmer, Mark Baker, who faces nearly $700,000 in fines for owning hybrid pigs the state deems illegal.

“The whole thing seems so crazy to me that I find it hard to believe that they are actually going to go through with it,” Johnston said.

In April 2012, Michigan began to enforce an invasive species order that prohibits possession of Russian Boar, or pigs with characteristics of what are commonly referred to as Old World Swine. The reasons clearly are well-intentioned – in states where feral swine have taken hold, the effects on nature and agriculture are obvious and devastating.

Feral hogs are an environmental menace, destroying crops and wildlands alike, and annually cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in the United States.

Patrick Rusz, director of wildlife programs for the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, suspects there are approximately 5,000 wild hogs in Michigan right now.

“This is a game of ecological Russian roulette,” Rusz said.

But critics of the state’s push to eliminate feral swine contend enforcement efforts harm small farmers and hunting ranches. State Department of Natural Resources officials forced the proprietor of Deer Tracks Ranch in Fife Lake to kill all his hogs following an inspection.

For the agriculture community, frustration focuses on the plight of Marion farmer Mark Baker, who owns about 140 pigs he describes as Mangalitsa hogs originally from Eastern Europe.

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