State’s invasive hog order spurs lawsuits
Cheboygan, Mich. — State officials are suing a Cheboygan County man after he refused to allow DNR officials onto his northern Michigan hunting preserve to inspect the facility for invasive hogs.
The lawsuit is the sixth since DNR officials declared wild boars an invasive species in December 2010, and the first case in which state officials are asking the court to force compliance with the new law since the department began enforcement action April 1.
“We’re looking to enforce the invasive species order, and this seems the best route to do that,” DNR spokesman Ed Goldner said. “We want to do this in a way that enforces the law, but is not heavy-handed.
“The lawsuit asks for the court to compel Mr. McKendrick to get rid of any invasive swine he has at his facility,” he said.
Ronald McKendrick, owner of Renegade Ranch Hunting Preserve near Pellston, told Michigan Outdoor News that DNR officials requested permission to inspect the facility for invasive swine April 3. McKendrick said he followed the advice of his attorney and denied DNR officials access to his property without a search warrant.
“They were at the ranch and they called me on my cell phone and they wanted access,” McKendrick said. “I just told them what my attorney advised – that they will need a search warrant.”
McKendrick contends that DNR officials harassed a client at the ranch and “returned the next day and … sat across the street from the ranch in their trucks for two days.”
McKendrick said he filed a trespassing complaint with the Cheboygan County Sheriff’s Department against DNR officials after they allegedly later ventured onto his property without permission.
McKendrick said he has continued to host weekly hog hunts at the 300-acre Renegade Ranch, despite the invasive species order, using “hand-raised pigs I bought in Michigan.
“These are domestic pigs. That’s what I have,” McKendrick said. “People have deposits and they plan their vacations around” the hunts.
Joseph O’Leary, who serves as prosecuting attorney in Baraga County, is defending McKendrick in the case. He also represents four other landowners in Baraga, Marquette, Missaukee, and Gogebic counties who are suing the state over the invasive species order.
O’Leary said he’s advised all his clients to request a search warrant from DNR officials conducting inspections.
“That way, my clients get the full protection of the court and the court process and they are not exposed to arbitrary enforcement by the DNR,” O’Leary said. “Frankly, my clients have very big trust issues with the DNR.”
O’Leary is suing the state on behalf of game ranch owners because he contends the invasive species order violates numerous legal principles, including the equal protection clause, the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and separation of power laws.
“In my opinion, nobody is in violation of this law because it’s an invalid law, it’s unconstitutional,” O’Leary said. “If the DNR has probable cause, they can get a search warrant. That’s the way it works. It requires them to follow the rules, and I don’t see anything odd about that.”
In the McKendrick case, the DNR won a temporary restraining order April 11, which prohibits the owners of Renegade Ranch from “(1) preventing DNR officials from entering Renegade Ranch … for the purposes of inspecting, photographing, and determining the number of prohibited swine in defendants’ possession; (2) selling or offering to sell animals prohibited by the invasive species order; and (3) from moving animals prohibited by the invasive species order except for slaughter,” according to Cheboygan County Circuit Court records.
The DNR complaint seeks court-imposed fines for possessing and offering for sale prohibited species of swine, depopulation of remaining swine at the Renegade Ranch, recovery of costs to the state to mitigate damage to natural resources, and civil fines for violating the Invasive Species Act, which range from $1,000 to $20,000 for each offense.
In another case, the Michigan Animal Farmers Association, an umbrella organization for hunting ranch owners, also sued the DNR, arguing that the department’s director did not have the authority to outlaw certain swine.
An appeals court upheld the invasive species order in an unpublished opinion, meaning the ruling doesn’t set legal precedent.
DNR officials issued the invasive species order in December 2010 to address “the significant threat posed by invasive swine to agriculture and the environment in Michigan.”
“The prohibited animals carry diseases that can devastate domestic livestock. Also, the swine engage in behaviors – rooting and wallowing – that damage soils, crops, and waters,” according to a DNR press release.
The order went into effect Oct. 8, 2011, but DNR officials delayed enforcement of the new law until April to “give those in possession of prohibited swine every opportunity to come into compliance with the law,” the release said.