September 07. 2010
By most accounts, free-ranging feral swine are as much of an ecological threat as Asian carp. Leading agricultural and natural resources organizations in Michigan are worried enough to want them eradicated and banned from the state, but that would shut down at least 40 game ranches whose owners collect as much as $2,000 apiece from hunters eager to stalk and shoot them on the ranches.
A balanced approach that avoids putting these entrepreneurs out of business seems like a better option, provided the owners are willing and able to keep the critters contained. Such an undertaking would require stronger state regulation of the hunting ranches, the cost of which should be fully covered by user fees. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize private hunts or pay for the disease and damage caused by feral hogs that escape.
Feral swine can be hunted at all times outside of the ranches on private land. If they are to be shot on public land, hunters must have a small game license.
Michigan residents already have been saddled with a $415,000 tab for actions to protect local pork production facilities when 19 wild hogs were diagnosed with Pseudo rabies (PRV) at a private hunting facility in Saginaw County in 2008, according to Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
There are an estimated 5,300 feral swine on the loose in Michigan and the population is growing, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Some escaped from hunting ranches, others from hog farms. They have easily adapted to Michigan’s wilds and now are producing offspring that compete with other animals for food. They threaten the spread of PRV, brucellosis and other devastating diseases to $500-million-a-year pork production industry.
The United Conservation Clubs are among organizations pushing to have feral hogs listed as invasive species, which would simply outlaw them. A club official says the group believes the swine already meet legislated criteria for listing as an invasive species. Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission considered doing so on Aug. 12, but held off after hearing from game farm owners who said they’ve invested millions setting up their operations and obtaining wild boar from Canada and elsewhere.
A popular YouTube video features hunters with wild boar they bagged at Bear Mountain Lodge near the Upper Peninsula’s Negaunee. They compare the experience to stalking Russian boar in Siberia, a cutting-edge hunting adventure these days. Three Republican House lawmakers are proposing legislation to keep the ranches in business with increased state oversight. The bill would require ranch owners to pay a $1,000 fee every three years, install tougher enclosures, test all of their boars for diseases and keep detailed records of each animal.
The problem is that stronger enforcement proposed in the bill would cost $2.3 million a year, according to DNR estimates — far more than the $40,000 or so the proposed fees would raise over a three-year period. With the state budget more than $1 billion out of whack, taxpayers can’t afford to make up the difference. If the disparity can’t be resolved through higher fees, invasive species listing might be the only alternative.
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