Wildlife officials took aggressive action last year to keep pigs from becoming a permanent feature of Michigan's landscape. Certain kinds of pigs were declared an invasive species. But farmers and ranchers say the move was too extreme and are now challenging the science of the ban.
Among those protesting is Stuart Kunkle. He has ten pigs at his small farm south of Traverse City. Some are mulefoots and others are mangalitsas. These pigs are hairy and black. 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 heritage 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."
Part-time farmer Stuart Kunkle is not exactly who the state was targeting when it banned feral swine. (He says he might be "collateral damage", though other small farmers think this is just another attempt to put them out of business.) 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 wildlife official in Lansing has referred to them as four-footed Asian carp.
A pig is a pig?
The state wants to get in front of what it sees as a serious conservation problem before it is too late. 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 says all pigs are one species.
"What they've attempted to do is invent a different species and put that 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 sent a letter earlier this month outlining objections to the science of the ban. The association says there is no clear way to distinguish between pigs.
The DNR has a different view. They say the domestic pig has become its own species after years of separation from wild boars. And Dan Eichenberg says his department published the clear criteria for identifying illegal pigs.
"I think we've clearly articulated the points we'll be looking for."
The prohibition on feral swine takes effect on April 1st. At that point, the state plans to begin contacting anyone they think has an illegal animal.