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Friday, August 19, 2011

Strange Politics Threaten Feral Hog Ban

Michigan has a problem on its hands.  Please see our latest editorial. 

Trading A Landscape For A Bridge

While many citizens are aware that Michigan has a growing wild hog problem, few know about the strange politics threatening to eliminate the ban on these invasive pests.  Michigan has a feral hog problem because game ranches began stocking wild hogs with razorback or Eurasian blood lines for their shooting clients in the 1990s.  By 2001, some of these animals had escaped and began proliferating in the wild, and causing the same type of damage to agricultural and natural resources as occurs in many other states.  No amount of hunting and trapping can reverse this situation until the stream of escapes from game ranches and breeding facilities is stopped. That’s why the Michigan DNR issued a possession ban on non-domestic swine last December.

This ban order included a July 8, 2011 enforcement date, but several game ranchers elected to use the intervening six months to lobby for anti-ban legislation instead of phasing-out their hog stock.  This legislation was introduced in the Michigan House in May, and proposes to replace the DNR ban with a set of fencing standards and other requirements that experts say will not contain these escape-artist animals.  Moreover, most game ranches have deer and other species to offer their clients in lieu of hogs.  As a result, informal vote counts showed that the ban order was comfortably ahead of anti-ban legislation in both the House Agriculture Committee and the full House following the Committee’s four hearings.                                                                          

However, House Speaker Jase Bolger, of Marshall, and several representatives from districts with major game ranch operations continued to push for anti-ban legislation.  Speaker Bolger has been a consistent opponent of a ban, and his role has generated a large amount of speculation about his motives because he does not have a game ranch constituency and does have an agricultural district that would be badly damaged by feral hogs.  But, the Speaker also has a staff member who used to work for one of the most aggressively anti-ban Michigan game ranch operators.     

Whatever the motivation, Speaker Bolger was so determined to obtain anti-ban legislation that he used his leadership powers to move it directly to the full House when it became apparent that the House Agriculture Committee would not approve it.  This “discharge” process is rarely used, and was extraordinary for legislation that could not gain Committee approval following four well-attended hearings.

The full House seemed to provide the Speaker with another impossible hurdle, but the Snyder Administration quickly stepped in and began assisting him.  Governor Rick Snyder, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, and some of the Governor’s top aides launched an intense vote wrangling effort in the House that allowed anti-ban legislation to pass on June 30.   The pressures were particularly intense on Republican House members, and representatives Mike Callton, Bob Genetski, Holly Hughes, Joel Johnson, Kenneth Kurtz, Matt Lori, Aric Nesbitt, Amanda Price, and Bruce Rendon deserve special mention for ignoring these pressures and joining a large majority of the House Democrats in voting against anti-ban legislation                                                                   

The Snyder Administration’s involvement has been peculiar for its intensity and lack of interest in facts.  The common assumption in Lansing political circles is that the Governor is assisting the Speaker on feral hogs in exchange for the Speaker’s help on some other issue.  And this help is widely assumed to involve delivering Republican House votes for a publicly rather than privately financed new bridge across the Detroit River.  In other words, the feral hog threat to Michigan’s $71 billion agricultural industry and priceless natural resources seems to have become a pawn in a cold political bargain.

The Michigan Senate will vote on the same anti-ban legislation in September, and the Governor has pressured the DNR to extend its ban enforcement date until after that action.  Our Senators are obviously going to receive the same top-down pressures that turned the House vote.  But Senators are more independent, and citizens can help save the DNR ban by asking their Senator to ignore the politics and vote against anti-ban legislation.   The anti-ban bills that need to defeated are HB 4503, HB 4504, HB 4505, HB 4506, and HB 4699, and the website at http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysenator/fysenator.htm identifies our State Senators by district and provides contact information for each of them. 

Michigan has all of the ingredients for the “Hogs Gone Wild” devastation that is commonly shown on reality television if our political leaders do not start treating feral hogs as a dire threat instead of a political bargaining chip.   

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