Reports of a devastating wild hog invasion were premature, suggests a new state report.

"Minnesota does not have an established feral pig population," the state's Department of Natural Resources said in a 34-page document delivered to legislators Thursday.

The DNR report — prepared in collaboration with state agencies for health, agriculture and animal health — did, however, note that current law is "unclear" on when an escaped domestic pig should be called "feral."

For months, anecdotes have swirled about feral pigs in Minnesota, and the DNR's newly released report did not fully quash those rumors. During a brief discussion on Thursday in the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Rep. John Burkel, R-Badger, a farmer from northwestern Minnesota, insisted he received two calls about feral hog sightings in Kittson County, which borders Canada.

"We're right there in the thick of it," Burkel said.

Eric Nelson, DNR Wildlife Damage Program supervisor, confirmed the reported pigs were actually so-called "loose domestic" animals that ran away from a farm.

Lawmakers requested the report last session, citing agricultural, health and environmental concerns. This followed widely propagated tales of swine running at large — a fearsome threat for their destructive nature. Feral hogs have been confirmed in 35 U.S. states, where they damage agricultural fencing, disturb livestock and sometimes exhibit aggressive behavior.

The absence of an existing problem doesn't mean sounders won't, or can't, establish in the North Star State in the future.

The closest U.S.-based feral hog populations exist in a North Dakota county and two counties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wild pigs are also established in southern Manitoba, just across Minnesota's border into Canada. A campaign backed by the province's pork industry has worked to thwart the nuisance, trapping or hunting more than 120 hogs in 2022.

"We're all working to get rid of wild pigs," Wayne Lees, project coordinator for Manitoba's Squeal on Pig initiative, told the Star Tribune last April in a phone interview.

Minnesota defines "feral hog" differently. Under one permanent rule, any swine living in the wild is feral. In a separate statute, feral hogs are genetically boars, living in the wild.

According to the Minnesota report, just two instances of the more specific type of feral hog emergence have ever been recorded in Minnesota.

In 2016, hogs genetically similar to wild hogs found in the southwestern U.S. were killed near Big Falls, in northern Minnesota. Restricted Eurasian boars were found residing on a farm in southwestern Minnesota in 2018. The DNR says the hogs arrived illegally into the U.S.

Pigs that have escaped captivity are more common on the Minnesota landscape, the report says. The state averages 12 reports of loose domestic pigs annually, according to the DNR. Often, potbellied pigs — formerly kept as pets — run wild. In 2022, furry hogs believed to be a heritage breed of pork escaped from captivity in southern Minnesota's Faribault County.

The DNR's Nelson said the public often thinks they're seeing feral hogs when, in fact, the pigs are runaways from a farm.

"It might have tusks. It might be furry-looking or whatever," Nelson said. "But that's any pig that doesn't have its teeth docked and doesn't live in a climate-controlled environment."

In some instances, such as in 2016 in Marshall County, pigs that wandered off a farm ended up reproducing on public lands. Those pigs, under state law, were considered feral, even if they genetically were not linked to sounders in the American South or Canada.

Agriculture, particularly Minnesota's prized hog industry, remains on edge about the possible spread of disease by wild pigs. According to the latest U.S. agricultural census, 28 million hogs called Minnesota home in 2022. Eating or butchering feral hogs, the report says, can spread disease into humans, who, in turn, might infect pigs in a barn.

In a potentially devastating parallel, agriculture officials point to what the state's turkey growers have undergone over the last two years due to avian flu, culling millions of birds and leading to large indemnity payouts.

Farmers and rural landowners say they're also concerned about the destruction of crops and property. The USDA estimates $2.5 billion a year nationally in feral hog damage.

This week's report, as well as some politicians, offered some critiques of the state's laws for dealing with loose swine.

"There needs to be clarity," said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, in a Friday phone call. "If you are either a farmer or a hunter and you come across one of these things in the countryside, who do you call?"

The report's authors say the state's laws, rooted in whether the animal is an escaped domestic or free-roaming restricted species, can send confusing messages about how governmental agencies should respond to an escaped pig. It doesn't take long, for example, for a pig escaping from a farm might resemble, say, a Eurasian boar.

"The majority of loose or feral pig reports stem from small-scale or hobby farm locations," concludes the report.

One possible solution floated by the report is increasing civil penalties to deter pig owners from allowing animals to get loose.

The DNR also discourages eradicating wild hogs with a hunting season, saying such sporting ventures may only incentivize the introduction of more hogs onto the landscape.