State wildlife officials say there’s a new invasive species in Michigan – Wild hogs. They are hunted on game ranches all over the state, but they can sometimes escape and officials say they can permanently alter any landscape they make their home. Peter Payette visited a man who raises pigs for his hunting ranch.
Wild is not the first word that comes to mind when you see Harvey Haney’s pigs.
Haney: Which one would you like me to pet?
Hunting ranches refer to these animals as Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have small tusks.
“We even find women don’t really care to shoot a pretty looking deer but they will shoot a hog because they’re so ugly lookin’”
We’re actually not at a hunting ranch right now. Haney raises boars at his home north of Bay City for his hunting ranch an hour north. This winter he’ll release them into 200 acres of woods surrounded by a ten-foot fence. He says once on the loose in the woods the pigs will become more wild and aggressive.
You can shoot one for $550. That’s about the cheapest hunt available from Heritage Trophy Hunts. Deer and elk cost $1,000. Haney expects to turn away pig hunters this winter.
“It seems like there’s a lot of hunters out there with 500 dollars to have a good time with all their friends. It’s generally a group activity. You can have groups as big as ten guys at one time doing a pig hunt.”
Russian boars are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe and are common in the southern United States, but state wildlife officials say there are now a few thousand on the loose in Michigan, mainly because they’ve been escaping from hunting ranches. A report from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment says nearly 50 were shot last year.
“Pigs are essentially four-footed Asian carp.”
Russ Mason heads the wildlife division at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. His staff recommends declaring wild pigs an invasive species. They tear up forests and farmland and destroy habitat for other animals. Once established, pigs are all but impossible to get rid of because they’re smart and multiply quickly.
Mason says it’s possible to keep pigs fenced in, but you need something more than the standard 10-foot high game fence most ranches use.
“Maybe double fencing. Ten foot high fence goes two feet into the ground, bevels in six feet to prevent digging, maybe anchored in concrete and a hotwire on top that will make bacon if you try to cross it. Plus clearing vegetation for twenty yards on either side so nothing can knock it down. That’s an expensive fence.
At least 40 hunting ranches in Michigan sell boar hunts, and they have some support in Lansing. Michigan Farm Bureau came out in favor of allowing the existing ranches to operate as long there are some rules. At the moment there are no regulations for wild pigs.
Earlier this month singer and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent was more outspoken about hogs. Nugent owns a ranch near Jackson. He told the Natural Resources Commission hunting is an important part of the state’s heritage and economy. He says boars seldom escape and when it happens they’re quickly rounded up.
“The hog hunting and high fence operations in this state are a win win win. And I challenge those who claim there are 5,000 to 7,000 pigs out there to show me one. I’ve got the boots let’s go find it. They’re not there.”
The director of the DNRE could declare wild pigs an invasive species at anytime. Then it would be illegal to have one anywhere even on a private ranch. Michigan lawmakers wouldn’t have to approve that decision, but for now the department will meet with the industry to discuss other solutions.
State officials say there are compromises, like requiring hunted pigs to be sterilized, but if wild pigs are regulated the next question is who pays for inspections and enforcement.
There is a precedent in this region – the state of Wisconsin has declared feral pigs an exotic species. There, it’s open season on the pigs year round.
Peter Payette, The Environment Report.
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