Acting on a new policy that went into effect on April 1, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) filed a civil complaint against Ronald McKendrick and Charlene McKendrick on Tuesday, April 10 to force them to remove prohibited species of swine on their property. The McKendrick family, which owns the Renegade Ranch Hunting Preserve in Cheboygan County, denied entry to DNR officials seeking to inspect the facility on April 3 for compliance with Michigan’s recently passed Invasive Species Act (ISA). According a press release issued by the Michigan DNR, the McKendricks’ ranch “has in the past been known to possess swine that are prohibited under the order”, and Ronald has admitted to having 15-18 pigs on his ranch that were raised in Michigan but he “doesn’t know what type they are”. As a result the Michigan DNR has taken legal action against the family. According to a Michigan Radio broadcast, the McKendricks denied access to the DNR as they did not have a warrant.
The complaint was filed by the DNR in the Cheboygan County Circuit Court requesting that that the McKendricks comply with the state’s Environmental Protection Act, Part 413, which prohibits “Transgenic and Non-Native Organisms”, and remove their swine. In particular, the Michigan DNR cited the 2010 Invasive Species Order (ISO) which made owning wild boar, wild hog, wild swine, feral pig, feral hog, feral swine, Old world swine, razorback, Eurasian wild boar, and Russian wild boar illegal. Michigan farmers were given until April, 1, 2012 to comply with the ISO or face legal action.
According to the DNR, the ISO was created for a number of reasons, the most important being the prevention of disease among livestock. The DNR believes that “feral” swine are more likely to carry diseases than their “domestic” counterparts. Additionally, the DNR has stated that invasive swine are a threat to Michigan agriculture because if they escape, feral swine are known to engage in digging and rooting behaviors which can damage crops, soils, and water.
However, there are some groups in Michigan that believe these claims are greatly exaggerated or even false. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) negatively reacted to the ruling coming into effect, arguing that the policy solely serves large agribusinesses’ interests and harms smaller heritage farms and hunting ranches in order to put smaller competitors out of business. The FTCLDF also makes mention of the fact that the law could “reduce or eliminate customer access to heritage breed pork, a product that has become increasingly popular with health conscious consumers and restaurants across the state.”
The DNR complaint seeks to fine the McKendrick family for being in possession of a prohibited species and offering the sale of a prohibited species. The complaint also seeks fines for the mitigation and prevention of environmental damage that their swine may cause. The fines for these violations could amount to $1,000-20,000 per violation, or per animal. According to DNR Director Rodney Stokes, this legal action is a last resort, saying “In implementing this order for the protection of Michigan’s environment and economy, the department has sought to work cooperatively with property owners wherever it can. For that reason, enforcement actions thus far have involved voluntary compliance inspections. Where prohibited swine continue to be held, property owners must come into compliance with the law.”
The debate over the legality of feral swine in Michigan is a bellwether for the rest of the nation as other states consider similar actions. We will continue to report on this issue as it develops.