Well, that didn’t take long. Just when we had naively thought that the supporters of Senate Bill 288 really meant it when they passed legislation granting the Michigan Department of Natural Resources authority to name game species based upon “scientific wildlife management,” some of these same bill sponsors now want to rescind the DNR’s authority to add species to the list of those prohibited in the state through legislation introduced in June in the form of Senate Bill 445.
State law currently provides for such authority when a species represents sufficient risk to health, human and animal welfare, as is believed to be the case with feral hogs and Russian Boar. In spite of our skepticism at the time, we did want to believe that this new-found trust in the DNR was real and most certainly expected that it would last longer than 45 days.
Although we’re not into name-calling, this issue is literally about swine, wild hogs and Russian Boar. As was highlighted in a recent blog appearing on the MUCC website, if SB445 were to pass it would effectively eliminate the authority of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources which was granted through the passage of House Bill 4579 in 2009. This 2009 bill was the legislative response to the myriad of risks associated with the increasing number of released animals and the nearly 20 facilities whose swine had tested positive for the pseudorabies virus.
On the strength of this authority, in 2010 the then DNR Director Humphries issued an Invasive Species Order which prohibited the possession of wild hogs, and their genetic variants which include Russian Boar. Both the effective date and schedule for enforcement of the Invasive Species Order was delayed in an attempt to give the legislature sufficient time to consider possible regulatory alternatives. Since none were found to be sufficiently suitable to the legislature itself, the Invasive Species Order went into effect and in April of 2012, the authorization for its enforcement.
This leads us to the most recent war of words on the topic. In July 22, 2013, State Senator Booher posted an op-ed piece on his State website. In it, Senator Booher shares his “outrage” that the State has moved forward with its legal obligation to fine those who fail to comply with this State law. Not surprisingly, an individual who has elected to continue illegal operations in the face of the Order and State law resides in Senator Booher’s district. A response written by DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder included the following remarks:
“Sen. Booher writes that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has “arbitrarily” banned “select breeds of pigs.” In fact, there was nothing arbitrary about the 2010 Invasive Species Order that prohibits a very specific type of pig – the Russian boar.
These animals, which are dangerous and can harbor diseases, were brought into the state to be hunted. Over time, Russian boar made their way into the wild. We know that at least some escaped from game ranches. The result has been a growing, breeding population of feral swine – that is, swine not in captivity. While it is true, as Sen. Booher writes, that any pig can become feral, Michigan’s problem is not with just any pig. Our problem is with Russian boar.
This is borne out by the results of a trapping program conducted by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services. The program catches feral swine across the state. In fact, feral swine have been spotted in 76 of Michigan’s 83 counties. Almost all of the pigs captured or killed are Russian boar or hybrids of Russian boar.
Invasive swine may carry disease to domestic livestock, root up farm fields, even eat upland game birds, small mammals and fawns. Southern states such as Texas, Mississippi and Florida have watched feral pigs become an expensive plague, estimated to cost the United States $1.5 billion a year. This threat is the reason that a broad coalition of groups continues to support the prohibition on Russian boar in Michigan.”
Perhaps what is even more unfortunate than the poorly conceived legislation now being advanced by Senator Booher in the form of SB445, is the talking point that it provides for those who opposed Senate Bill 288. When being debated, it was the contention of many of those who opposed SB288 that it had nothing to do with scientific wildlife management and was solely to do with providing for a Michigan wolf hunt. The fact that many of the same sponsoring names appear near the masthead of both SB288 and SB445 is unlikely to be lost on those who are now intent on compromising the State’s ability to manage a wolf population in accordance with its plan.
The point is, scientific wildlife management is just that – it is not a concept which can be supported when the issue involves a species you like, and opposed when it does otherwise. Its fundamental purpose is to remove public emotion and political expedience from such debates which all too often have been a victim of both.