TRAVERSE CITY (AP) - A northern Michigan judge rejected claims Monday the state's ban on exotic swine is unconstitutionally vague, but said lawsuits challenging the policy can move forward because they raise other issues for courts to consider.
The Department of Natural Resources last year outlawed possession of the animals, which are known by labels such as wild boar, feral swine, razorback and Eurasian wild boar. Officials say they're escaping from hunting preserves, reproducing and wreaking havoc in woods and fields. The DNR has tallied 385 sightings in the state but estimates thousands of the hogs are running loose.
Five lawsuits opposing the policy have been filed by farmers and ranchers - and in one case, a man and woman keeping two pigs as family pets. The owners contend they're being unfairly targeted and insist their animals aren't escaping.
The five lawsuits were consolidated for a ruling on whether, as opponents contend, the hog ban cannot be enforced because it's so vaguely worded that citizens can't figure out which pigs are illegal.
"We'll continue fighting this," said Ron McKendrick, owner of a Cheboygan County ranch that offered Russian wild boar hunts. He said the Marquette County judge's decision was a disappointment.
DNR spokesman Ed Golder said, "We're pleased with the ruling and we're going to continue to defend the department's position in court."
The DNR regulation lists a number of characteristics that could be used to determine a hog's status. Critics say some of them, including descriptions of tails and ears, could apply to any swine - including domestic hogs. The DNR says it considers all characteristics when passing judgment.
In his written opinion, Judge Thomas Solka noted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a person doing something illegal has no standing to complain the law is too unclear to be applied to others. A state court also found that owners of "wolfdog" hybrids could not challenge a ban on those animals on grounds of vagueness.
The people fighting the feral swine rule have acknowledged possessing such animals, so they can't use the vagueness argument, Solka said.
But he did say people could press other claims - such as that the policy is arbitrary, violates due process and amounts to an illegal government taking of private property - that could be dealt with by courts in the five counties where the suits were filed.