HOUGHTON - Baraga County pig farmers Roger and Brenda Turunen appeared in Marquette County Circuit Court Monday for a hearing they hope will allow them to resume business as usual after a legal battle that began in 2011 when the Department of Natural Resources declared the "Hogan Hogs" breed they raise an illegal invasive species.
Judge Thomas L. Solka did not rule immediately on the suit to invalidate the DNR's invasive species order in regard to the pigs, but said he would issue a ruling within 30 days.
Monday's hearing combined Roger Turunen's case against the DNR's invasive species order with similar suits filed by Matthew Tingstad of Gogebic County and Greg Johnson of Marquette County.
Photo courtesy of the Turunen family
This 2010 photo shows some of the pigs kept on Roger and Brenda Turunen’s Baraga farm. The farm has been under fire since 2011, when the DNR declared their pigs illegal under an invasive species order. They have fought back in court to assert the pigs’ legality.
If Solka rules in the pig farmers' favor, "we think it will solve our case definitively," said Brenda Turunen, although the DNR could also appeal a ruling favorable to the Turunens, and has already counter-sued.
If the DNR wins this case, Brenda Turunen is also party to a separate suit asserting her right to farm without interference as a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, due to an 1842 treaty that guaranteed tribal members the "usual privileges of occupancy" on land ceded to the United States.
Roger Turunen has also filed a third local suit to affirm the pigs' legality.
The Turunen's Hogan Hogs fall within a broader breed known as Russian Boar, which the DNR says are a risk to Michigan's natural resources.
DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder said ecological problems can ensue from any pigs becoming feral, but that the vast majority of pigs that become wild are the Russian Boar.
"A feral swine is any pig that's outside the fence, whether a pink pig or a Russian Boar," Golder said. "But what we know is that Russian Boar constitute the vast majority of boar in the wild in Michigan."
He said the best estimate is that there are about 3,000 feral pigs in Michigan, and that state farmers have been sending in reports of damage caused by the animals.
"The reason they're illegal is because they pose a significant risk to the state's natural resources," he said. "All you have to do is look at other states to see what a problem they've been."
Baraga attorney Joseph O'Leary, along with co-counsel Glenn Smith, represented the Turunens and their co-plaintiffs at the hearing.
He said the DNR didn't use sound science when creating the ISO, mainly in that there's no good reason to separate domestic pigs from Russian Boar, as most scientists believe both types of pigs are part of a single species.
The state's justification for shutting the Turunen's down is the invasive species act, he noted, "not the invasive subspecies act or the invasive breed act."
"First and foremost, my argument is summed up by four simple words, 'a pig is a pig,'" O'Leary said.
Brenda Turunen said her and Roger's pigs were raised domestically, with little chance of them escaping, and the DNR's descriptions of traits that could define a pig as invasive are unfair.
"How are you going to determine if ours are legal or the next guy's?" she asked. "It's almost like they're going to make it up as they go along."
The Turunen's normally keep around 1,000 pigs on their 119-acre farm, which they raise to sell for meat. The invasive species order mandates a $10,000 fine per illegal pig, meaning a potential $10 million total fine if the couple is prosecuted.
Currently, the farm is operating under an injunction that keeps it legal at least until the current case is settled.