STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
A man with San Marcos ties was found not guilty Friday of releasing feral pigs that wildlife officials said started the destructive species’ spread in Wisconsin.
Robert S. Johnson, 55, was charged with one count of illegally stocking wild animals, a civil offense. State investigators had accused him of bringing 31 wild hogs from Texas to Crawford County in 2002, spawning a feral hog population that has caused thousands of dollars in crop damage.
The state Department of Justice was seeking $31,000 in forfeitures — $1,000 for each pig — from Johnson, as well as an unspecified amount of money to cover environmental damage.
Johnson still faces trial in November on federal charges of illegally moving elk from his Wisconsin farm to Illinois. According to court documents, Johnson lists a San Marcos post office box as his address.
“This has been hanging over my head,” Johnson told the Associated Press as he left the courtroom. “Now just one more thing to clear up.”
Crawford County Judge Michael Kirchman said the state’s key witness, a man who claimed to have watched Johnson release the pigs near the Kickapoo River, wasn’t believable.
Kirby Fulbright of Medina had told wardens from Wisconsin, Texas and Illinois and a federal agriculture department agent in March 2007 that he helped trap pigs on his property for Johnson. He said he and Johnson drove to Wisconsin in the spring of 2002 with 31 hogs, and he watched Johnson release them into the wild near his ranch outside Gays Mills.
But Fulbright later recanted his statement, saying he was drunk during the interview and told the wardens what they wanted to hear. Johnson’s attorney, Mark Peterson, pointed to a USDA agent’s report that said Fulbright was drunk when he was interviewed.
But two investigators who had interviewed Fulbright testified Friday that Fulbright was sober. Mike Lyne, an Illinois warden, said Fulbright drank two vodka and orange juice cocktails near the end of the interviews but wasn’t drunk.
Johnson testified in his own defense, saying he traveled to Wisconsin in 2002 with an empty trailer and denied releasing any pigs. He said he planned to buy hay in Wisconsin, where bales were cheaper than in Texas.
Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Hirsch said she would speak to the state Department of Natural Resources before deciding whether to appeal.
Biologists estimate feral hogs roam at least 25 states. They can weigh up to 450 pounds and wreck crops by digging for food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates they cause about $800 million in damage to the nation’s farm industry each year.
Wild pigs aren’t native to Wisconsin, according to the DNR. Hirsch told Kirchman the DNR believes the pigs first appeared in the county in 2002. About 275 pigs have been killed there since.
» State of Wisconsin’s feral pig complaint against Johnson [pdf] » Written statements: Fulbrights | Stovall [pdf] » Depositions: Stovall | Williams [pdf]
— THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AND
REPORTING BY BRAD ROLLINS