Judge throws out ban on exotic swine

TRAVERSE CITY – A Michigan ban on Eurasian boars and similar exotic swine breeds is unconstitutional because it denies equal protection to owners of the animals and is so vague that it’s hard to tell which the policy covers and which are exempt, a circuit judge said in a decision released Monday.

Judge Thomas Solka’s ruling applies only to sections of the Upper Peninsula that are home to three hog owners who fought the regulation, but courts elsewhere in Michigan could look to it if others challenge the ban.

Solka delayed his ruling from taking effect in expectation of an appeal by the Department of Natural Resources. Ed Golder, an agency spokesman, said it will consider appealing the ruling within the 21-day period allowed by law.

Glen Smith, a Marquette attorney for two of the owners who sued, said they felt vindicated.

“It’s been a long battle and they’ve been very uneasy about the efforts to enforce what they’ve always perceived to be an unfair regulatory action by the DNR,” Smith said.

The rule, adopted in 2010, targets swine varieties commonly known as Eurasian or Russian boars, razorbacks or feral hogs, or hybrids exhibiting the same physical features. It labels them invasive species that are illegal to possess.

Solka’s opinion pertained to lawsuits filed by Greg Johnson, who owns the Bear Mountain hunting preserve in Marquette County; Roger Turunen, who raises Russian boars in Baraga County for sale to game ranches; and Matthew Tingstad of Gogebic County, who bought two boars from Turunen to keep as family pets.

The judge affirmed the DNR’s authority to designate animals as invasive species and make it illegal to have them in the state. But he said in this case, the agency lacked a rational basis and didn’t meet equal protection and due process standards under the Michigan and U.S. constitutions.

Even the DNR’s experts acknowledged that domestic hogs also might have bodily features listed under the order as identifying invasive swine.