By STEPHEN ANDERSON
BARAGA - One local pig farmer and dozens of others like him from around the state could become criminals if a Michigan Department of Natural Resources order goes into effect on April 1, but they're not going down without a fight.
Roger Turunen and his wife Brenda raise their own breed of old-world pig called the "Hogan Hog," and due to the DNR's most recent amendment to its Invasive Species Order, that breed could be prohibited, jeopardizing the Turunen's $5 million 500-pig farm in Baraga and potentially making them felons.
"It's D-N-R, not G-O-D," Roger Turunen said. "They have no clue what they're doing. They stuck their nose some place where they don't belong."
Turunen filed a complaint through the Baraga County Circuit Court on Feb. 21, seeking a preliminary injunction, citing several factual allegations against both the ISO and the DNR's follow-up declaratory ruling. Turunen's complaint, filed against DNR Director Rodney Stokes in his official capacity, was submitted by lawyers Joseph O'Leary and Glenn Smith. O'Leary is Baraga County's prosecuting attorney, but he is handling the case in a private capacity.
"Previously, the (Invasive Species Act) has been limited to bans on genuine nuisance species, such as zebra mussel or emerald ash borer ... now the MDNR has issued an Invasive Species Order which literally outlaws every pig in the State of Michigan," read part of Turunen's 20-page complaint, one of four already filed across the state, with another being filed soon.
The ISO prohibits "wild boar, wild hog, wild swine, feral pig, feral hog, feral swine, Old world swine, razorback, eurasian wild boar, Russian wild boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus)," but it adds that "this subsection does not and is not intended to affect 'sus domestica' involved in domestic hog production."
However, when Turunen and the 34 other pig farmers like him in the state sought clarification on what a pig involved in "domestic hog production" was, the DNR's declaratory ruling only muddied the waters.
The ruling, released Dec. 13, 2011 in response to farmers' concerns, affirmed what amounts to a prohibition on all pigs, saying it would determine compliance with the ISO based on phenotype, visual expressions of genes, rather than genotype, the unique genetic make-up.
The ruling proceeded to list eight phenotype characteristics the DNR would use, including coloration, skeletal appearance, tail structure (including either curly or straight tails) and ear structure (including either erect or floppy ears). The real kicker was the final characteristic: "Other characteristics not currently known to the MDNR that are identified by the scientific community."
"One or more of those characteristics apply to every pig in the state of Michigan," said O'Leary, who called the enforcement "arbitrary and capricious."
On March 14, O'Leary filed a request for admissions, hoping to get the DNR to admit to 15 different concessions including "that one or more of the physical characteristics listed in the Defendant DNR's December 13, 2011 declaratory ruling can be applied to every pig in the State of Michigan."
If the DNR conceded that, it would likely have to clarify or change the ISO; if it denied that, it would have to prove it untrue when the case reaches court.
Furthermore, a Feb. 8 letter by the Michigan Animal Farmers Association to Stokes asserted "The ISO, along with your Declaratory Ruling, are scientifically and biologically flawed. ... Your department and staff has and is continuing to misinform and misrepresent this issue to the public, elected officials, administration and producers in your attempt to implement the ISO upon those who own domestic animals."
The DNR responded to the MAFA with a letter of their own on Feb. 17, saying it "respectfully disagrees" with the MAFA's conclusions and it still did not intend to amend the ISO or declaratory ruling.
"The Invasive Species Order and Declaratory Ruling are based on sound scientific evidence and supported by scientific experts in the field," read the DNR's letter. "Begining April 1, 2012, the DNR intends to determine compliance with the Invasive Species Order and those persons found to be in violation ... may be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties."
Farmers are now at the mercy of the courts to determine their fate, as legislators have limited options in opposing the ISA, which carries the weight of law. The ISA delegated authority to the then-Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Then-director Rebecca Humphries issued the ISO, which was supported by then-governor Jennifer Granholm.
Unless the courts deem it illegal or unconstitutional, the only way to reverse the ISO would be for current DNR Director Rodney Stokes to sign off on a change.
"There's not much we can do. ... We're hoping the DNR changes their ways," State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said. "I was opposed to them doing it from the beginning. It should never have happened. (Swine) should have been regulated not eliminated."
As an outdoorsman and a U.P. native, Casperson said he has never seen a pig in the wild and doesn't believe it to be a widespread problem this far north. Turunen agrees.
"There isn't a feral pig issue this far north anywhere in the country. Anyone that knows anything about pigs will tell you the same thing," said Turunen, who believes the primary motivation behind the ISO is to eliminate hunting ranches.
Turunen's "Hogan Hogs" are sold for meat and he is the state's largest supplier to hunting ranches, preserves and estates. The ranches are fenced-in open-air areas in which customers pay a fee for the ability to shoot the pigs in a natural setting and simulated hunting experience.
"This method of raising and harvesting pigs is far more humane to the animals involved than the methods employed at the large factory-style pork production facilities," according to Turunen's complaint.
With eight days until the DNR's ISO enforcement begins, no decision has been reached regarding injunctive relief.
Even if the court upholds the ISO as legal, Turunen is at least seeking a declaration that his "Hogan Hogs" meet the exemption for "sus domestica" involved in domestic hog production.
Turunen, O'Leary and others across the state - other complaints have been filed in Gogebic, Marquette and Missaukee counties - ultimately expect the case to be decided in court.