Wild Boar Is No Barnyard Pig, Michigan Appeals Court Says


     (CN) – With feral swine overrunning Michigan, ranchers cannot block state efforts to label the Russian wild boar an invasive species, an appeals court ruled.
     Though ranchers raise the boar primarily as a hunting target, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that there could be between 1,000 and 3,000 feral swine in the state thanks to the beast’s “prolific breeding practices” once they escape captivity.
     An adult wild boar weighs up to 300 pounds, and its wallowing activities cause serious erosion along riverbanks. Boar also frequently tear through livestock fences to eat animal feed; feast on corn, watermelon, and other crops; and “prey upon young livestock,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records.
     In Texas, the state with the highest feral pig population, the animals are a major pest, causing $500 million in damage per year. They are also known to carry diseases and parasites.
     Michigan declared the Russian wild boar an invasive species in 2012, leading game ranchers to fire back in court, claiming that their pigs qualify as domestic hogs.
     A June 2 opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals quotes the DNR’s “less scientifically sophisticated parlance.”
     “A Russian boar inside a fence does not become a different species when it escapes or is released and becomes wild,” the department said, insisting that boars are invasive even if kept in pens.
     The Gogebic Circuit Court nevertheless sided with the ranchers and imposed an injunction, based largely on the fact that domestic pigs and Russian boars share many characteristics and are genetically related.
     Reversing Tuesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals said that the invasive species order may be “imperfect” but still “pass[es] constitutional muster.”
     “In prohibiting the possession of all pigs of the species Sus scrofa Linnaeus, the DNR reasoned that pigs of this species are environmental ‘bad actors.’ They escape, breed vigorously, spread disease, eat crops, defecate in lakes, and generally cause ecological mayhem,” Justice Elizabeth Gleicher wrote for a three-judge panel. “Domestic pigs, Sus domestica, stay home. Michigan has not experienced an epidemic of escaping barnyard pigs.”
     The ranchers who filed suit may be responsible owners whose pigs have never escaped their pens, but the state still has room to curb a legitimate public concern. The fact remains that Michigan harbors thousands of feral pigs that cause environmental destruction and economic damages every year, the court found.
     “Plaintiffs’ insistence that their Russian boars are not ‘wild,’ and therefore incapable of ravaging the environment, does not alter our analysis,” Gleicher said (emphasis in original).
     DNR reasonably labeled the species invasive based on a “well-founded fear that escaped boar will decimate existing ecosystems,” not on an arbitrary finding that plaintiffs’ boar are “second-class swine,” according to the 14-page opinion.
     The court also dismissed plaintiff’s “disingenuous” objections that DNR’s delineation of the species declared invasive is too vague.
     “The words used to identify forbidden pigs do not describe Porky Pig, guinea pigs, or any of the swinish breeds associated with a farm or a livestock yard,” Gleicher wrote. “Moreover, plaintiffs are well aware of the differences between their boars and pigs raised for agricultural purposes.”
     Gleicher actually began the opinion by calling the issue a 21st reimagining of Ellis Parker Butler’s 1905 work “Pigs Is Pigs.”
     It “tells the story of a railroad agent who insisted on charging the “livestock” rate for a shipment of two guinea pigs, rather than the lower rate applicable to domestic pets,” Gleicher wrote.
     “‘Rules is rules,’ the agent announced, and ‘th’ nationality of the pig creates no
     differentiality in the rate.’ The man who had ordered the guinea pigs refused to be bullied by the bureaucratic agent. Rather than pay a rate he viewed as exorbitant (30-cents a guinea pig), the buyer left the creatures at the station. Within weeks, two guinea pigs became hundreds. The chastened agent announced, ‘Rules may be rules,’ but henceforth, ‘pigs is pets.'”

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