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Concerns rise over feral swine

Status change being considered

August 6, 2010
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - Aug. 12 will be the day the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) Commissions meet in joint session.

It has the potential to reflect the most recent weather we've been seeing, very heated.

One of the topics up for discussion will be a proposal to convert the classification of feral swine (a.k.a. Russian boar, wild pig) from its current non-descript position to that of an invasive species of wildlife.

It is the first step in eliminating the animal from Michigan, should it become adopted by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC).

That will likely meet with strong objection by private game preserves that utilize the feral swine as a significant part of their income.

One such operation I know of here in the UP has gone through as many as 500 of the animals in a single year.

Game ranches are supposed to have adequate controls in place to keep the boars from escape into the wild and from becoming free ranging. The intent of the regulation is protection against their establishing colonies as free and ranging wildlife.

The concern, should it happen, is that feral swine are very prolific and overwhelming competitors for habitat. They are also a public risk for disease and environmental problems.

It all adds up.

Given the concerns with their presence, the big question remains. How did they get here in the first place?

I'm not sure how long they have been here in Michigan, but I know the popularity to invest by game ranches has greatly expanded over the last decade. In fact, the first indication I could find that they posed a potential threat once outside a fence came back in 2004.

Then a captive game ranch had seen release of swine near Baraga and former State Representative Rich Brown introduced legislation to make the pigs a game species.

His legislation failed from, as he said, "the DNR bucking the idea." Years later he recalls reading support for the regulation coming from the agency almost verbatim to his original plan.

The MDNRE would take on a major responsibility if the feral swine did in fact become a game species. If converted, there would be a statutory requirement to manage the species and invest monies into suitable habitat and population controls.

The MDNRE's objection is not about the extra requirement, they don't want them here in the first place.

Brown's wishes finally came true in May of 2010, except the new law does not list feral swine as a game species. It simply allows shooting of any free ranging boar found on public or private land year-round. The only requirement is a person killing a pig on public land must possess a valid small game license.

While initially permitted through the MDA, those game ranches that had swine escape have raised concern of the general public and hunters due to their impact on the environment and competition with other wildlife.

Boars are omnivores and like coyotes and wolves, are stealth opportunistic predators.

It is understood that they, like their counterpart predators, seek out the weak and sickly wildlife for food, but there is only so much of the weak side to go around.

The impact to general populations of wildlife could not only be substantial, there are places where it is happening.

According to MDNRE Wildlife Chief Russ Mason, feral swine have established in southeastern Michigan, primarily in the "Thumb" area. There is added concern that some may carry disease such as bovine tuberculosis, pseudorabies virus and brucellosis.

The problem also exists in the western Lower Peninsula.

Mason is also concerned about the impact on habitat converted by established swine populations and the potential contamination to the environment.

In April of 2009 Jim and Tine Boes, who live near Muskegon, were sitting down one evening to watch the Detroit Tigers on television.

Out their window they observed eight feral swine, one of which had chased Mrs. Boes the previous fall.

They shot and killed four of the eight pigs, the largest was 6-feet-3 in total length and weighed 514 pounds.

So given the current dilemma, what should game ranches do to recover their losses if this is passed?

It is entrepeneurism that made it an excepted marketable commodity. Should the agency who allowed them here in the first place be accountable given the fact the negatives were present in other states prior to seeing them here?

When will outdoors business consider the impact on natural resources and other native species first before introducing another game industry?

When will we see thinking from the conscience before the wallet?

It will be a tough decision, especially given the impact on businesses in the UP. There are sightings of free ranging (escaped) swine in at least three counties here. UP Whitetails has established a bounty for any swine taken but as of yet, none have been turned in.

If action is taken by the MDNRE/NRC, it will be retro-active to issues prevalent in the LP but pro-active taking effect statewide. It is hard to disagree with the plan. It is disheartening to consider how some will have to deal with losses to their business.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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