Back in 2001, following a breakout from a hunting preserve on the Upper Peninsula’s Abbaye Peninsula, folks in Baraga County reported wild boars running loose, tearing up yards and gardens. One particularly aggressive boar, a man claimed, had chased him into a barn.
The district’s then-State Representative Rich Brown asked the Department of Natural Resources what could be done. Nothing, he was told. Feral swine – the name given to any pig that’s escaped into the wild – weren’t listed as game animals; it would be illegal to shoot them. So Brown drew up legislation to declare feral swine game. Lacking support, the bill never made it out of committee. He tried tacking it on to an appropriations bill. Still, no go.
A year later, fed up with the boars and the bureaucracy, Brown says Baraga folks took matters into their own hands: "It is my understanding they adopted the three-‘S’ method – shoot, shovel, and shut up."
Though the people of Baraga County solved their boar problem, similar situations cropped up in pockets around the state. Along the southern border, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Jackson County residents reported sightings. Ditto for Cheboygan County at the tip of the mitt, Lapeer County in the thumb. In Saginaw County, neighbors complained about a 200-pounder rooting around in their backyards at night. A man in Bay County hit one with his car. Hunters in Midland caught some on motion-triggered cameras.
Finally, in November of 2006, Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and DNR issued a joint press release encouraging licensed hunters to shoot feral swine in any of the 23 counties where the animals had been sighted.
One month later, they added seven more counties to the list.
Feral pigs aren’t pretty. They’re often hybrids of boars – dark, sometimes humpbacked, grizzly-haired, stiff-eared, snaggletoothed creatures – and farm hogs – light-colored, coarse-haired, floppy-eared porkers. Feral pigs can be black, tawny or white; their skin pattern solid, mottled, belted or something in between. Their body’s size and shape, their ears and canine teeth, the curl of their tail, the shape of their snout – each characteristic is determined by the blood dominating a pig’s hereditary line.
However, there is one ugly trait all feral pigs share: an appetite for destruction. Highly adaptable and opportunistic omnivores, feral pigs eat just about anything. Farm crops are an unfortunate favorite, but feral pigs are known to gobble down everything from grass, roots, tubers, fungi, berries and acorns to insects, eggs, reptiles, carrion, fawns and even manure. Guided by an acute sense of smell and taste, feral pigs follow their snouts to wherever food hides, churning up huge swaths of land as they root through soil, dig up crops and destroy anything that stands in their way.
When a pig’s been in the area, you’ll know it, says Alabama-based Auburn University’s Steve Ditchkoff, one of the nation’s foremost experts on feral swine: "The land looks like a moonscape."Even when they’re not in pursuit of food, feral pigs make a mess. To prevent sunburn, avoid insect bites and maintain a comfy body temperature (pigs don’t sweat), they like to wallow in mud and water. But their presence erodes riverbanks and bottoms and impacts water quality by increasing nitrates and chloroform counts, says Ditchkoff. It changes the ecosystem’s balance and makes it easier for invasive plant life to thrive.