Booher Op-Ed: DNR and AG’s plan to fine pig farmer $700,000 outrageous

Mark Baker is a fighter.  He honorably fought for our country as a member of the Air Force for 20 years.  Now, to keep his family farm in McBain, he’s fighting against state bureaucrats, the Attorney General and his team of taxpayer-funded attorneys who are seeking to take away this patriot’s livelihood.

The Department of Natural Resources issued an invasive species order in 2010 that arbitrarily bans select breeds of pigs.  Department officials claimed the pigs must be banned because the state has a problem with feral hogs, meaning wild pigs running outside of a fence.  The department makes this claim despite the fact that: 1) Mark’s pigs have been raised inside a fence their entire lives; 2) not a single Baker pig has ever escaped captivity; and 3) all pigs, no matter what the breed, are capable of becoming feral (i.e. loose).

The DNR created a list of certain subjective characteristics that pigs will be assessed by to determine if they are now an invasive species.  Mark’s pigs matched some of the characteristics – characteristics that any pig would meet.   And, overnight, Mark’s pigs were magically transformed into an “invasive species” despite the fact that he and his family had been raising the heritage hogs without incident since 2007 and successfully selling to high-end restaurants as his family’s primary source of income.  Therefore, left with no other alternative, Mark filed a lawsuit against the DNR to try to protect his family’s livelihood.

Now, incredibly through the lawsuit that Mark filed, the department is claiming that Mark has admitted to having invasive species and should be fined $10,000 per pig – or an astounding $700,000!  That is right—the state wants to fine Mark nearly three quarters of a million dollars simply because of the breed of pig that he produces on his farm.

Of course, if Mark was “just” poaching deer, he would only be subject to a $1,000 fine.  If he were driving drunk, he would only be subject to a $2,000 fine.  Or, heaven forbid if he were selling crack cocaine to our children, he would only face a $10,000 fine.

Instead of prohibiting all people from hunting simply because a few people choose to poach deer, or stopping all people from driving because some people do choose to drive drunk, we pass laws to clearly and specifically address those behaviors.  We do not simply have some bureaucrat make a rule that prohibits hunting and driving.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for Mark Baker.  The heritage pigs he raised were legal one day and not the next simply because the DNR director said so and couldn’t be bothered to simply take a bit of time to promulgate some sensible regulations to ensure pigs didn’t become feral.

Like Mark, several other operators in Michigan have also been wronged by this action and forced by the state into the same corner as Mark.  Consequently, they have also, filed lawsuits to protect their businesses, their property and their livelihood. Not surprisingly, rather than allow Michigan citizens, who will serve as jurors, to decide whether the department’s actions were right or wrong, the DNR and their team of taxpayer-funded attorneys have continually sought to delay or dismiss the case.

All of the actions taken by the state—from first issuing the invasive species order, to its implementation, to the stall tactics and indefensible fines—were done because of a bureaucratic ruling, not because it was required by law.  Instead of taking a common sense approach to prevent the release of feral swine, such as requiring tags on all pigs or increasing the penalties for those who purposefully release hogs or allow them to escape, the department developed this outrageous rule that targets only certain breeds.

Thankfully, it’s not too late.  State officials can still do the right thing and just repeal the invasive species order.  They could then work to institute common sense changes that would better address feral pigs in Michigan and not instantaneously make criminals out of law abiding citizens and take away their property and their living.  As this lawsuit heads to trial, I hope the DNR, Attorney General, and Governor Snyder see how shameful this decision is and reconsider their decision and actions.

Mark Baker is a fighter, but this is not a fair fight, so I will continue to stand behind Mark and the other farmers who are fighting against this disgraceful ruling.  And, I urge you to join me in that fight by calling the governor’s office (517-373-3400) and request that he join me at Mark Baker’s farm to see the issue firsthand and then work with me on a common sense solution that doesn’t put our law abiding, hardworking, small family farms out of business.

Darwin L. Booher
State Senator-35th District