Baraga pig farmers continue legal battle
BARAGA – Roger and Brenda Turunen continue two separate legal battles to retain their rights to operate their Baraga pig farm, but a 2011 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Invasive Species Order amendment still in litigation could make them felons.
Roger, who has a case in state court challenging the ISO, was awarded a preliminary injunction against the DNR on July 15 in Baraga County Circuit Court, which will allow him to sell his Hogan Hogs in Michigan, at least until the case is decided.
“Prior to the issuance of the order now under review, of course, Mr. Turunen was considered a law-abiding hog farmer. Mr. Turunen was an individual who was making a legal living, raising and selling hogs, and apparently was quite successful in doing so,” said Circuit Court Judge Charles Goodman in his decision to grant a preliminary injunction. “The raising of animals or the growing of crops has always been an occupation which was well respected in this country, and the American farmer has been considered an icon.
… In October, though, of 2011, Mr. Turunen’s once-legitimate activity potentially became an unlawful activity based upon the stroke of a pen. Whether the activity is lawful, in other words, whether Mr. Turunen’s constitutional claims … are indeed valid has yet to be determined.”
After weighing several factors, notably that the damage to Turunen could be irreparable if an injunction was not authorized – as opposed to the negative to the DNR being added enforcement costs – Goodman approved the injunction. But, now the DNR is targeting possible buyers from Turunen, which would still effectively put him out of business. Turunen’s attorney, Joseph O’Leary will be filing paperwork today on that issue, with the legal battle likely starting again Monday.
“It’s kind of ridiculous why they’re fighting that,” O’Leary said in a Thursday Daily Mining Gazette interview at the Turunens’ farm. “They want them gone from Michigan, and they’re trying to sell them outside of Michigan.”
The Turunens have about 1,200 old-world-style hogs on their 119-acre Hogan Land Improvement farm, and they’ve always sold just in Michigan until the case forced them to seek markets in Pennsylvania and New York. They sell feeder pigs to people who want to buy pigs and raise them, butcher pigs and pigs to game ranches, where people go to hunt them for high-quality meat.
“What they’ve been doing is trying to block us from sales so that we’ll go broke before it goes to court, because they know they can’t beat us in court. That’s my opinion,” said Roger during Thursday’s DMG on-site interview.
Aside from the legal dispute over the preliminary injunction’s intent, Roger’s case as a whole has been combined with two other similar cases in the state, and a scheduling hearing is slated for Aug. 22 in Marquette to determine the next step.
Roger’s wife Brenda is involved in a separate federal case affirming her treaty rights to farm as a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The attorney general’s office initially filed a motion to dismiss in the case, and O’Leary, who is also handling that case, filed an amended complaint and a brief in opposition. The groups went back and forth yet again, and both sides have now requested oral arguments. The federal court is expected to decide soon whether to rule on paper or grant oral arguments.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Brenda, during a tour around their farm, in which the approximately 1,200 pigs are fenced in in 12 different pens. Each pen has food dispensed from a chute pulled behind a tractor and hay bales, culverts for sleeping in, a watering hole and plenty of room to roam.
“If you’re trying to kill feral pigs, you can kill every pig here, you won’t kill a single feral pig. They’re all confined,” O’Leary said. “By definition, they’re not feral. Yet the problem is feral, so Roger’s pigs have to die? Even if you accept that there’s a feral swine problem in Michigan – and we have our doubts – what is this solving?”
O’Leary and Roger Turunen described how the Hogan Hogs are different from those butchered in pork factories, where pigs are packed so tightly in pens that they can’t ever lay down. They stand their whole lives while eating, to build muscle, and antibiotics are provided in their food to prevent the rapid spread of viruses. The Turunens’ operation could be a financial threat to big pork producers, so Roger insists that’s the rationale behind the ISO in the first place.
The Turunens have specially bred their pigs to withstand the harsh U.P. winters, having successfully developed the Hogan Hog in 1999. The pigs have visible characteristics that could be grounds for the ISO to be enforced, which could come with a $10,000 fine per pig if the DNR wins – which would be about a $12 million fine. The Turunens once had 400 head of cattle, but are now down to five because pigs have been more successful from a business standpoint. They typically have about 1,000 pigs at this time of year, but they’re up to 1,200 because of the limited sales they’ve been able to make.
The ISO, as clarified in a 2011 declaratory ruling, stated nine different phenotypical characteristics (expressions of genetic make-up instead of genotypical, the actual genetic make-up), including either curly or straight tails and erect or floppy ears.
“If you call the DNR, what they’ll tell you is they’re only after the Russian boar,” said Roger. “Then why don’t they say that in their Invasive Species Order? If you read the Invasive Species Order and declaratory ruling, it covers any pig you could possibly grow.”
According to an article on the DNR’s feral swine page (michigan.gov/feralswine), “The Invasive Species Order is not an attack on farms. In fact, the order is intended to protect Michigan farms. The animals at issue are not traditional farm pigs.”
The Turunens’ pigs are not traditional, but they are farm pigs. The DNR maintains that the species at issue is “the terrestrial equivalent of Asian carp,” noting that, as of 2011, more than 340 feral swine had been spotted in 72 Michigan counties, and “based on their prolific breeding practices,” the number could be between 1,000 and 3,000.
Roger insisted there are no feral swine in the Upper Peninsula at least, saying, “there’s more cougar sightings than there are (feral) pig sightings.”
“It’s tough, but I think the people who find this as troubling as we do should contact the governor, contact the attorney general, let them know what you think,” O’Leary said. “… With the stroke of a pen, the governor could reverse this.”
For more information on the DNR’s perspective, including PDF copies of the ISO amendment and declaratory ruling that sparked this ongoing legal battle, visit michigan.gov/feralswine. Search “feral swine” on mininggazette.com to read previous articles written on the topic.