Eye on Lansing Michigan lawmakers grapple with wild pig problem DNR could begin process of banning wild boars by July 8

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's current strategy for dealing with free-roaming, wild swine that destroy crops in parts of the state is basically to shoot them on sight.

That's likely not a long-term solution to the state's feral swine problem, according to wildlife officials. The Department of Natural Resources says the threat stems from pigs escaping the game ranches where they're hunted for sport. Unless state lawmakers come up with an alternative plan, the DNR will begin the process of banning possession of wild boars July 8.

Lawmakers are divided on the issue as the deadline approaches.

Some want to let the invasive species order take effect and put it into state law so it can't easily be altered. Others say that would unnecessarily harm game ranches that rely on wild boar hunts for a major chunk of their income. Those lawmakers seek to adopt regulations for ranches, including tougher fencing standards to prevent the animals from escaping.

Wildlife officials say the time to act is now, before the state's feral swine problem becomes too big to manage with either strategy.

"Think of it like skin cancer," said Russ Mason, chief of the DNR's wildlife division. "Right now we're dealing with a couple of moles. We can get them froze off. Ignore that, it's gonna kill you."

A state law adopted last year allows hunters and law enforcement officers to shoot wild swine they encounter on public property. The feral swine can be killed on private property with the owner's permission. But wildlife officials doubt the strategy is enough to handle the feral swine population. The wild pigs are smarter than coyotes, Mason said, staying out of sight and on the move.

"They are very good at not getting killed," Mason said. "They have home ranges that are enormous, if they have home ranges at all. If you take a shot today over by Grand Rapids and miss that pig, tomorrow he's going to be in Muskegon."

Federal officials say the wild pigs exist in at least 39 states with the largest populations in California, Florida, Hawaii and Texas. The pigs can top 200 pounds, ravenously eating corn, soybeans, hay and much of anything else they stumble upon. They're also considered a disease threat to domestic livestock.

The roaming pigs have been reported in at least 65 of Michigan's 83 counties. Wildlife officials estimate roughly 3,000 to 5,000 may range outside of captivity, although those numbers are doubted by some hunters who rarely see the beasts outside of game ranches.

"There's not 200 pigs running around this state, let alone 5,000," said Doug Miller, owner of the Thunder Hills Ranch in Jackson County.

Miller considers the DNR population estimates a "joke" and says game ranches are unfairly blamed for the swine's presence in the wild. The Michigan Animal Farmers Association is contesting the ban with a court case pending in Ingham County.

Miller also has elk and deer on his hunting ranch, but said wild boars are the key to his business. He'd rather face the regulations than an outright ban on the boars.

"I'm in favor of reasonable regulations for us," he said. "There isn't anything to prevent just any old person from having pigs. There needs to be some regulations."

Game ranches would be required to pay fees for inspections, testing, applications and other procedures. Swine would have to be kept within secure fences. Different versions of the regulations have been proposed in the House and Senate.

Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican and dairy farmer from Vulcan, prefers a strategy that would implement regulations while continuing the state's see-a-pig, shoot-a-pig policy.

"Let that law work on our feral pig problem, then put a law in place that allows the good actors in this state, the good businessmen, to stay in business," McBroom said.

Opponents say anything less than banning the animals would be asking for trouble. Members of organizations representing pork producers and milk producers are among those supporting a ban, citing the risk to crops and the potential for spreading disease.

"As far as I'm concerned, bringing in wild hogs to this state would be like bringing in Asian carp and putting them in a pond for fishing," said Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge who has sponsored legislation to put the DNR ban into state law. "There's going to be a flood and they're going to escape. These wild boars are escaping."

If the ban were to go into effect, it would be phased in. DNR officials say ranch owners would be given time to have large scale hunts, sell off animals to ranches in states where hunts are permitted or take other steps to adjust.

"We intend to structure the removal of pigs in a way that allows guys in a very reasonable way to restructure their business to assure that none of them suffer significant economic harm," Mason said.

Published: Tue, Jun 21, 2011


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