By Rosemary Horvath
An ongoing legal battle between a Missaukee County hog farmer and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources ended Tuesday in a flicker with only vague language of a state order still intact.
“They said I’ve complied with the order but I haven’t complied with anything. They said I changed my herd but I haven’t changed anything,” said Mark Baker Thursday morning.
Baker was reacting to outcome of a motion hearing Tuesday during which Missaukee Circuit Court Judge William Fagerman granted two motions. He dismissed the DNR’s motion for a summary dismissal of the lawsuit Baker filed against the DNR and the DNR’s countersuit against Baker.
This mean the bench trial scheduled for early March goes away.
The Attorney General’s Office fined Baker $700,000, which was $10,000 for each banned pig he owned. There was also a dispute over whether Baker owned feral pigs or heritage pigs.
“It’s all over,” said a circuit court spokesperson Thursday, meaning there will be no written opinion coming from the judge regarding language over wild boar versus domesticated pigs.
Baker views the procedure as carving out an exception to the law especially for him. “They gave me a ‘carve out’. The law applies to everyone but not me,” he said.
Baker and wife Jill operate a farm in Missaukee’s Riverside Township about five miles north of Marion.
In 2011 the MDNR declared their herd of Mangalitsa pigs as feral and issued an Invasive Species Order under the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act.
The Bakers began raising the breed in 2009 with no problems, explained Jill. “We are a farm. We feed the pigs, shelter them and send them to a butcher.”
The Bakers had sued the DNR for clarification regarding the 10 names for pigs deemed illegal to own.
Baker said at one time years ago he did have a Russian pig that fell into this mix. “She was long gone,” he said. “Some of the blood we have in the herd.”
Baker chose the Russian board some years because “because they are a hardy breed and my Mangalitsa were kind of weak.”
The Bakers and supporters from across the state wanted to pin the DNR down in court to clarify the characteristics.
DNR guidelines identify nine physical characteristics for determining whether a pig is included in the ISO ruling. At least one of the nine must be present.
Confusing are the color details such as bristle tips light in color compared to rest of hair shaft, dark coloration of distal portions of snout, ears, legs and tail colored dark brown to black, lack light-colored tips on bristles.
Then there is light grayish-tan to brown base coat with a dark brown to black spinal stripe and either straight or curly tails and either straight, erect ears or folded floppy ears.
DNR claims to distinguish between a domestic and a feral pig by the length of the tail, the head and body length, the hind foot length, the length of the snout as well as their should height.
Lastly, “other characteristics not currently known to the MDNR that may be identified by the scientific community” at a future time.
The DNR website denies the charge the invasive species order is used to attack farms, particularly small farms.”
In fact, the order is intended to protect Michigan farms. The animals at issue are not traditional farm pigs. The Invasive Species Order prohibits a particular species, Sus scrofa Linnaeus, commonly known as Russian boars, Eurasian wild boars, or razorbacks. This species is the terrestrial equivalent of Asian carp. The swine are incredibly destructive omnivores that destroy wildlife habitat and carry diseases that threaten domestic hogs, other livestock, wildlife and people. The owners of heritage pigs are not affected unless they own a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar or a hybrid of a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar.
“The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the department’s issuance of the Invasive Species Order one month before enforcement began. Further, the Court of Appeals ruled that the department was required to list this species as a prohibited species, pursuant to its statutory obligations under Part 413 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.”
Baker identifies himself as former military and not afraid of challenging authority. “The fear is out of me,” said the veteran of two conflicts.
After their long ordeal and having their business suffer, the Bakers are regrouping. They still have the herd that will be used to supply restaurants of northern Michigan and elsewhere with the specialty meat.
“We are hoping to rekindle the market,” Jill said.
At one time, the Bakers owned hundreds of Russian Boars and Hungarian Mangalitsa swine. In March 2012 the DNR ordered Baker to depopulate his pig stock. He complied with the order by slaughtering his herd of Russian Boards but not the Mangalitsas that were exempt from the ISO ruling.