Native farmer challenges Michigan's exotic hog ban

By John Flesher

AP Environmental Writer

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) -- An American Indian farmer is suing state regulators, accusing them of violating her rights under a 19th century treaty by banning exotic hogs that are believed to be escaping from hunting preserves and damaging the environment, her attorney said last Friday.

Brenda Turunen of Baraga is the fifth hog producer to file a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources over its 2010 designation of certain breeds as invasive species, making it illegal to possess them. The DNR order identifies the animals with a number of labels including wild and feral swine, razorback and Eurasian and Russian wild boar.

Agency officials estimate that 1,000 to 3,000 of the swine are running loose in Michigan, a figure critics say is exaggerated. The fierce, sharp-tusked animals breed prolifically and are notorious for eating virtually anything and for damaging fields and wetlands with their rooting and wallowing.

At one point, Michigan had about 60 game ranches where hunters could pay to stalk a wild boar. Most are believed to have gotten rid of the animals. But five producers have gone to court, contending the state order is unconstitutionally vague and arbitrary, while the state has filed a separate case against one ranch owner. Turunen, who filed suit last week in U.S. District Court, added a new twist by raising the tribal rights claim.

A member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the western Upper Peninsula, she says an 1842 treaty guaranteed Indians the right to live off the land through means such as hunting and farming in exchange for ceding land to the federal government.

"Whether Brenda chooses to market squash, peas, cattle, hairy hogs or raw milk, she has a federally protected right to do so," said her attorney, Joseph O'Leary.

Turunen has raised crops and livestock for 23 years near the tribal reservation. The suit says she and her husband developed a hairy swine breed called the "Hogan Hog" that is ideally suited for harsh Upper Peninsula winters. It has some physical characteristics of the banned swine, although Turunen insists none of her animals have escaped and become feral.

Turunen says the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has interfered with her shipment of Hogan Hogs to out-of-state markets and harassed her veterinarian. She is asking the federal court to rule that the state has no authority over her operation.

Officials with the natural resources and agriculture departments declined to comment on the case.

Published: Tue, Apr 16, 2013