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      Feral swine a nagging, growing problem

      The statewide ban on feral swine is scheduled to take effect on April 1, but Department of Natural Resources officials say the industry could still be saved if the legislature passes a law regulating the industry before then.

      Officials estimate there are about 35 sporting swine operations in the state--some are breeders, some are game ranches. The DNR says 10 of those operations are located in the U.P., but there could be more because until now, the industry has been unregulated without any reporting requirements.

      So what exactly are feral swine? Some are wild boar and some are simply domestic pigs that escaped into the wild and interbred with the wild boar.

      Most are between 100 and 200 pounds, but some have weighed in at over 500 pounds. They're considered an intelligent animal, good swimmers, and quick runners.

      The wild boar originated in Europe and Asia, and came to the United States, as best we can tell, in the late 19th century. They were brought here for sporting purposes.

      As many as four million feral swine (both the original boar and the pigs that have interbred with them) may now populate the U.S., but most are in the South, Texas in particular. The so-called razorback of Arkansas is a feral swine.

      Michigan has an estimated 1500-3000 feral swine, most of them downstate. The DNR believes they may have been introduced into the state as recently as 15 years ago.

      They look different from the domestic pig. They have thick, bristly coats, longer legs, a narrow head and snout, and a distinctive, prominent ridge of hair on their spine (hence, the name razorback).

      Their meat is said to be tasty and they're considered a good sporting breed.

      So what's the problem? Why are they being banned in Michigan?

      "They can transmit disease to humans," explains Debbie Munson Badini, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources. "And that includes toxo plasmosis and trichinosis. They also damage our livestock, specifically pigs, with brucillosis, peudo rabies and tuberculosis."

      She points out that a local meat processor recently came down with bacterial meningitis after processing wild boar meat.

      And the damage, she says, goes beyond that. Feral swine tear up crops and trees. They can driver farmers crazy. So why not just ban the swine in the wild, but leave the gaming operations alone?

      That could happen, Badini says, if the state legislature decides to act. The DNR, she emphasizes, isn't out to destroy the businesses of breeders and ranchers.

      "It is a concern," she says. "We're not happy about that but we have to look at the bigger picture in our state. The damage is huge."

      There's the concern also that the swine at gaming ranches can escape. They're known to be resourceful animals.

      Whether the legislature and the DNR can be just as resourceful in preserving an industry while ridding the state of a pest, remains to be seen.