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A pig ban gets muddy

A Mangalitsa pig at a farm in McBain, Michigan.
Peter Payette/Interlochen Public Radio
A Mangalitsa pig at a farm in McBain, Michigan.

Wildlife officials took aggressive action last year to keep pigs from running wild on the landscape. Certain kinds of pigs were declared an invasive species. But farmers and ranchers say the move was too extreme. They’re challenging the science of the ban.  On today's Environment Report, Peter Payette explains that distinguishing between pigs can be complicated. 

Peter visited Stuart Kunkle at his small farm south of Traverse City.  He has ten pigs.

“We have a mix and some purebreds here. We have two mulefoots which are the black pigs. That’s Rosabelle and down there is Trinity at the end… then we’ve got a mixture of what we believe is Russian boar and Mangalitsa.”

All these pigs are hairy and the Mangalitsas are almost as dark as the mule foots.

Kunkle got into pigs for a few reasons. One is: he has a day job and pigs are less work than other animals. And he says the market for pastured pork is growing and chefs have become interested in some of the unusual breeds.

But his pigs might soon be illegal. Kunkle isn’t certain but he has the list of characteristics the state will soon use to identify illegal pigs.

“They have erect ears, which I have heard that the erect ear is something associated with the Russian boar. But you know, I want to say except for certain breeds, I want to say a lot of the pigs I’ve ever seen have erect ears.”

Stuart Kunkle is not exactly who the state was targeting when it banned feral swine.

Wildlife officials have been talking for years about the dangers posed by hunting ranches that sell wild boar hunts. They say the animals sometimes escape and there are now thousands living in the wild.

One top official has referred to them as four-footed Asian carp.

Dan Eickinger is with Department of Natural Resources. He says states in the south that have large pig populations will never get rid of them.

“They just simply recognize that control techniques are effectively off the table for them that it’s just a problem they’ll have to live with now.”

To avoid that here, Michigan declared some pigs an invasive species.

But banning so called wild pigs is not that simple. All pigs are descended from the Eurasian boar. Boars were domesticated, resulting in a new sub-species. Sometimes, domestic pigs escaped and become wild again.

That led to the classification of another sub-species, feral swine. And all these types can cross breed, further mixing the gene pool.

Scott Everett sums it up like this.

“There is only one species of swine. What they’ve attempted to do is invent a different species and put that species on the invasive species list.”

Everett is working with the Michigan Animal Farmers Association. It’s a group of ranch owners and farmers fighting this rule.

The group already has one lawsuit against the state. And they sent a letter earlier this month outlining their objections to the science involved.

They say there is no clear way to distinguish between pigs.

The DNR has a different view. They say domestic pigs have become their own species after years of separation from wild boars. And Dan Eichenberg says his department has been clear about what they’ll look for.

“I think it’s quite the opposite of saying we’ll know them when we see them. I think we’ve clearly articulated the points we’ll be looking for in helping us determine whether a pig’s been prohibited.”

Back at Stuart Kunkle’s farm, he is making no plans to get rid of his pigs. He doesn’t think the state’s rules will stand up.

“I’m concerned but I’m raising my pigs and that’s what I plan to keep doing.”

The prohibition on feral pigs takes effect on April 1st. At that point, the state plans to begin contacting anyone they think has an illegal animal.

-Peter Payette for The Environment Report

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