Exotic Swine
© Associated Press/John Flesher
Mark Baker poses with his exotic swine on his farm near McBain, Michigan.
Pigs can be unpleasant, vicious creatures, especially in groups. They are omnivorous, will destroy anything and frequently attack innocent people when given the opportunity. But that is just their nature. Remember the scene from the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy falls into the pig pen and everyone around her practically has a heart attack? That's because they knew she could have easily been pig food. Pig farmers know how difficult the animals can be and take great care to not be in compromising situations including staying on the other side of the fence from them.

It's no wonder, then, that the state of Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), specifically, takes issue with feral swine running rampant throughout the state. (I think there would be general consensus on that point: let's not have horribly destructive animals free to roam the state and victimize helpless people. Oh wait...back to feral pigs...)

There are effectively no feral swine in Michigan. Oddly though, the DNR issued a declaratory ruling effective back in April of 2012 that all feral pigs had to be destroyed. In their description of feral pigs, they included characteristics often found in domesticated pigs, like having a curly tail or a straight tail or having hair or not having hair...you get the idea. For a full list, please visit here or here. The DNR's description of feral swine fits every pig in the US; probably the world. Nowhere in this list of characteristics was there actually a requirement that the pigs be feral. Feral, as in, living outside of fences.

So why such a broad definition? The DNR admitted that the language for the declaratory ruling came from the pork industry and that they created a broad definition that effectively targeted the heritage breeds of pig being raised on family farms.

Subsequent to the declaratory ruling, the DNR ordered all pigs that met those qualifications to be depopulated by April 1, 2012. When Michigan farmers heard about this, many of them destroyed their herds. One farmer, Mark Baker, of Baker's Green Acres, refused. He said he would not destroy his herd of domesticated, heritage breed pigs that he has selectively bred for years and are the source of his families income. He didn't kill his healthy, domesticated animals. Instead, he sued the state to get clarification on the order and ruling and challenged its applicability to him, since his pigs are not feral.

In response, the DNR threatened him with $700,000 in fines for having pigs that met the criteria of "feral pigs." And then they threatened him and his "employees" with arrest and felony charges. Baker's "employees" are his wife and children, who help with various, age-appropriate farm chores.

Subsequent to the threats of fines and felony charges, the state conducted an elaborate dance where they introduced legislation that required any court case where a citizen was suing the state to be heard in the state courts, rather than the county court where Baker's case was already pending. If that bill had gone into effect as written, it would have reset his case, leaving him in limbo with no resolution for over a year. Purgatory is no fun, and destructive to a business. Here are a couple of articles that summarize and exemplify the madness:

As if that was not enough, on January 18, 2014, the USDA threatened him with violence. In response, Baker filed a report to have the threats on record. Baker says he was notified that a USDA field agent said in writing that "there is no way in hell" he would come to the Baker farm, but would instead leave that duty to "armed DNR agents." Baker says he is being portrayed as a "gun-waving lunatic" in the DNR's attempt to marginalize his family's situation. Baker stressed publicly that he is a peaceful person and does not want his farm besieged by government agents looking for a fight.

By any account, the state of Michigan has run rampant using their positions to abuse the people and swine of Michigan. For the past two years, a peaceful farmer, instead of producing food for his community, has spent countless hours in court, filing papers, working with his attorneys to keep his livelihood, and has gone to bed every night wondering what the state-paid pigs are going to do next. Baker and his family have been traumatized by the events and they have seen the consequences of such trauma.

The Baker family hopes that they can keep the pigs they want and that they never hear from the "feral" pigs again.

The only silver lining is that there is still the possibility of setting a desirable precedent. After 2 long years, countless threats, and harassment, Baker is finally scheduled to have his day in court. The trial is set for March 11-14, 2014. This trial is an opportunity for people to support a peaceful farmer from the intrusion of feral pigs who work for the DNR.

"If I don't fight this, then everyone's freedom is at risk," said Baker.