Baraga pig farmers continue legal battle

BARAGA – Roger and Brenda Turunen continue two separate legal battles to retain their rights to operate their Baraga pig farm, but a 2011 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Invasive Species Order amendment still in litigation could make them felons.

Roger, who has a case in state court challenging the ISO, was awarded a preliminary injunction against the DNR on July 15 in Baraga County Circuit Court, which will allow him to sell his Hogan Hogs in Michigan, at least until the case is decided.

“Prior to the issuance of the order now under review, of course, Mr. Turunen was considered a law-abiding hog farmer. Mr. Turunen was an individual who was making a legal living, raising and selling hogs, and apparently was quite successful in doing so,” said Circuit Court Judge Charles Goodman in his decision to grant a preliminary injunction. “The raising of animals or the growing of crops has always been an occupation which was well respected in this country, and the American farmer has been considered an icon.

… In October, though, of 2011, Mr. Turunen’s once-legitimate activity potentially became an unlawful activity based upon the stroke of a pen. Whether the activity is lawful, in other words, whether Mr. Turunen’s constitutional claims … are indeed valid has yet to be determined.”

After weighing several factors, notably that the damage to Turunen could be irreparable if an injunction was not authorized – as opposed to the negative to the DNR being added enforcement costs – Goodman approved the injunction.

But now the DNR is targeting possible buyers from Turunen, which would still effectively put him out of business. Turunen’s attorney, Joseph O’Leary will be filing paperwork today on that issue, with the legal battle likely starting again today.

“It’s kind of ridiculous why they’re fighting that,” O’Leary said in a Thursday. “They want them gone from Michigan, and they’re trying to sell them outside of Michigan.”

The Turunens have about 1,200 old-world-style hogs on their 119-acre Hogan Land Improvement farm, and they’ve always sold just in Michigan until the case forced them to seek markets in Pennsylvania and New York.

They sell feeder pigs to people who want to buy pigs and raise them, butcher pigs and pigs to game ranches, where people go to hunt them for high-quality meat.

“What they’ve been doing is trying to block us from sales so that we’ll go broke before it goes to court, because they know they can’t beat us in court. That’s my opinion,” said Roger Thursday.

Aside from the legal dispute over the preliminary injunction’s intent, Roger’s case as a whole has been combined with two other similar cases in the state, and a scheduling hearing is slated for Aug. 22 in Marquette to determine the next step.

Roger’s wife Brenda is involved in a separate federal case affirming her treaty rights to farm as a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

The attorney general’s office initially filed a motion to dismiss in the case, and O’Leary, who is also handling that case, filed an amended complaint and a brief in opposition.

The groups went back and forth yet again, and both sides have now requested oral arguments. The federal court is expected to decide soon whether to rule on paper or grant oral arguments.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Brenda, during a tour around their farm, in which the approximately 1,200 pigs are fenced in in 12 different pens.

Each pen has food dispensed from a chute pulled behind a tractor and hay bales, culverts for sleeping in, a watering hole and plenty of room to roam.

“If you’re trying to kill feral pigs, you can kill every pig here, you won’t kill a single feral pig. They’re all confined,” O’Leary said.

“By definition, they’re not feral. Yet the problem is feral, so Roger’s pigs have to die? Even if you accept that there’s a feral swine problem in Michigan – and we have our doubts – what is this solving?”