James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Rampaging wild pigs are not funny, after all

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: April 29, 2014 - 9:45 AM

I begin the wild boar tale with the March rollout of Gov. Mark Dayton's crusade to wipe out useless legislation. One of the laugh lines was a supposedly silly statute empowering the Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture to personally hunt down wild boars that get loose in the Twin Cities. No one has seen one of the rascals trotting through Minnesota any time recently, so who would need such a law?

Well, wild boars were nowhere to be found on the final list of useless laws, thanks to the agriculture commissioner himself, Dave Fredrickson. He told me this week that he takes the blame for the wild boar story escaping from a fairly reasonable policy into the land of political ridicule.

It started with a sportsman's show back in St. Paul in the summer of 2011. Newly appointed as commissioner, Fredrickson found out that two wild boar were headed for Minnesota, in a trailer hauled by a Michigan man drumming up business for his hunting preserve. Dating to 1993, the law makes wild boar (sus scrofa) swina-non-grata in Minnesota: you need a permit to bring one for any purpose, and if it gets out of your control, the state can hunt it down and make you pay for it. 

There's a reason for this: feral swine, who aren't native to North America, have caused massive damage in Southern states with their hooves and snouts, ripping up wetlands, farms, forests and even graveyards in their relentless search for food. 

Wild boars desecrated an Oklahoma cemetery

Wild boars desecrated an Oklahoma cemetery

Despite all this, Fredrickson did not want to cause trouble for the Michigan fellow, so he told him to send the agency a check for the $50 permit. He also had the boar's portable enclosure checked out to ensure it could contain the animals. "They looked pretty mean," he recalled. What about them, I asked. The tusks sticking out of the sides of their mouths, he said.

The swine went home to Michigan without causing further trouble. Fast-forward to the "Unsession," when Fredrickson mentioned the wild boar affair as his comic introduction to the obscure powers of his office. But the image of the commissioner wrestling a pig on Nicollet Mall was too hard to resist, even if the law really didn't say that, so it briefly became a symbol of lawmaking run amok. 

"The serious part of it, we do have wild pigs in this country," the commissioner told me. "You don't want this one to be out in the countryside."

The lesson learned: Make a joke at the Capitol, and it's a good one, you might be taken seriously.   

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