Four days ago, I had the good sense to set life aside and hitch a ride north for the #feralfarmer Mark Baker vs. Feral Pig Michigan DNR showdown. Friday was the latest hearing in the unbelievable saga of the DNR’s persecution of its small family pig farmers. I had to see this for myself.
What does this have to do with Kentucky? Other states are watching this action. If MI and its Pork Producer’s Association (which helped write the ISO) gets away with this, look for similar actions against small farmers around the country.
In 2010, the Michigan DNR — a state agency not endowed with law-making authority — decided that certain pigs (all those descended from wild Russian boar) were likely to become feral. Once feral, they would wreak such havoc on Michigan that they must all be killed RIGHT NOW.
The DNR’s Invasive Species Order (ISO) amounts to your basic pre-crime law for swine. It doesn’t matter that:
- feral pigs are not a problem in Michigan at all
- all the pigs it wants killed are currently domesticated
- all pigs in the U.S. are descendants of the wild Russian boar
- between 2001 and 2011, only 340 truly feral swine have been sighted in Michigan and 286 killed*
- Michiganites can shoot a feral pig on their property
- anyone with a hunting license can shoot a feral pig
- all domesticated pigs — heck all domesticated animals — will go feral if left without their humans
- in 15 years, the Bakers have never had a pig escape, much less one “go feral”
- domesticated animals are outside the DNR’s purview
- the Bakers’ pigs are managed on the Bakers’ farm under accepted animal husbandry practices so are not “feral” under any definition of that term
- the ISO actually exempts domesticated pigs:
“This subsection does not and is not intended to affect sus domestica involved in domestic hog production.”
*Reports of sightings/killings are made by the public, accuracy unconfirmed. No way to know if multiple sightings are of the same pig.
Mark Baker: “What’s Happened So Far”
Those Who Must Be Obeyed
Most Michigan hog farmers went right out and shot their pigs. Yep, killed their livelihood based on a possibly illegal and unconstitutional (not to mention illogical) decision by a bunch ‘o bureaucrats. Unquestioning obedience is what the DNR expects, no matter the consequences.
troublesome courageous Bakers, however, did not obey. Incredibly, they dared ask the DNR for clarification: “Um, aren’t we exempt?”
“Not,” said the DNR, without further clarification. Maybe it was too busy? It did find time to send threatening letters to the Bakers. To intimidate restaurant owners — formerly good BGA pork buyers — from buying. To get the complicit USDA to forbid its slaughterhouses from processing. To forbid transport of Baker pork outside the state. To forbid sale of Baker pork to anyone anywhere anytime.
To basically put the Bakers out of business because they would not shoot their pigs which are actually exempt from the ISO.
In fact, the DNR attorney, when asked why the Baker’s were being fined when no one else was, replied that the procedure was to fine anyone who questioned the order. No kidding. Can’t wait for the transcript so I can quote her exactly. She also said that others were going to be fined, but they hadn’t gotten around to that yet. Just found time for the Bakers. Talk about Government Bullies.
Baker’s Green Acres fined $700,000
Shutting down their income via threats and intimidation was not enough punishment for the Bakers! A few weeks ago, the DNR fined the Bakers $10,000 per living pig. With 70 pigs, that comes to $700,000. Considering that an 80 acre Michigan pig farm is not worth a third of that — so no hope of collecting and real danger it will bankrupt the Bakers — this fine seems to be outright harassment.
As Michelle Halley, the Baker’s attorney, pointed out, only one other Michigan farm has been fined $700,000. That was a CAFO operation for fouling the surrounding land and water with sewage. Only after a decade of failed enforcement and fines, did its fine reach $700,000. Yet the Bakers make that mark first try.
Doesn’t $700,000 seem excessive? Fortunately, the Bill of Rights has an 8th Amendment protecting us from excessive fines: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Whew. Once we show this to the DNR, the fine will be rescinded.
And maybe pigs will fly.
Meet the Bakers
Before The Hearing
We arrived at Baker’s Green Acres around 8:30p Thursday. After meeting the family, the other visitors and touring the farm, we enjoyed a delicious bar-b-que with that good company around a campfire.
On Friday, after milking Penny and slopping the dangerous swine, we arrived at the courthouse at 1pm, the hearing to start at 2. We had to get there plenty early because we’d been told the clerk had removed ALL the extra chairs so there would only be 50 seats. Sure enough, she had. Not only that, the little roped off section for the 10-member Baker family had only 7 chairs.
By 1:30, so many fed-up farmers and friends had arrived, the hallway was jam packed. Meanwhile, the courtroom looked so roomy… well, the crowd started bringing in chairs. The clerk didn’t utter a peep, even with her two burly bailiffs on hand.
By 1:45 there was standing room only. By 2:00, every space was filled: sitting, standing, kids on laps, sitting on the floor… Those of us sitting in the first 50 chairs had skooched forward several times to make more room.
At last count, there were 230+ people from 13 states there. Clearly, this courthouse had NEVER seen this kind of action. It was a BEAUTIFUL thing!!!
Click here to see pictures, including a couple of shots of the courtroom. By the time the room was completely packed, I could not take any more photos. But look for Hogwash… they filmed the entire thing!
Judge Solka wasted no time in a put down for the Baker team. When Michelle asked if she could introduce the Baker family, the judge said, “No. This isn’t a show.”
From then on, however, he appeared to be the epitome of fair and balanced. In fact, he made a couple of jokes that brought the house down. Nor did he seem to mind it when the crowd practically booed and hissed at the DNR’s mention of the Farm Bureau.
He even quoted the Baker’s Motion when questioning the DNR attorney. At one point, she could not think of an answer and just stood there for probably 15 seconds. At another point, she apologized for her sketchy notes. “Sketchy notes”? Really? She didn’t prepare, then admitted it? Wow.
Michelle, on the other hand, did a superb job in defending the Baker’s Motion. She was clear and concise, providing solid documentation. Kelly the Kitchen Kop has an excellent write-up here on the court proceedings.
After The Hearing
We all agreed the showdown went well. Judge Solka will render a written opinion in the (hopefully) not too distant future.
Some people were disappointed he did not make an immediate decision. They thought it was because the Judge was not willing to buck the system. But delaying the decision is a smart move. If he wants to appear impartial, whether he is or not, he could not decide such a politically charged issue after a two-hour hearing.
And is the judge impartial? I have no clue; I don’t know his history. But voter turnout speaks to elected officials. Facing down 230+ outraged voters in his courtroom for what should have been a simple farmer-beating makes a lasting impression.
Not that the judge will be intimidated into deciding for the Bakers. But he will surely be respectful of the law if he wants to stay in that seat.
What Happens Next
The trial is still scheduled for August 27th. Depending on the Judge’s decision, that may be cancelled or rescheduled so don’t pack your bags yet. But be ready!
During yesterday’s pig roast, Mark asked for a show of hands for who encountered a MI deer by the side of the road. Several hands went up — I myself saw at least two. Well, pigs are omnivores. They eat anything. If feral pigs were plentiful, we’d see them snacking on roadkill. In fact, they’d likely BE roadkill. Oddly, nobody saw a single feral pig.
About Feral Pigs in Kentucky
- Jan 2012: Herds of Feral Pigs Going HogWild in Kentucky
- Fish and Wildlife: Wild Pigs in Kentucky
- Jan 2013: Wild Hogs Rooting Up Problems for Farmers
I could find no list of invasive species of animals in Kentucky. If you know of a list or the animals on it, please comment. Thank you!
I have been following the story of the Baker family and the harassment of the DNR, as a concerned citizen of the state of Michigan. I have used your article to present information to my many facebook contacts and will continue to follow you and Kelly for updates.