Summit County Sheriff's Office deputies who suspect animal-rights activists are behind a rash of threats leveled at fur farms on the East Side have stepped up their "mink patrols." Officers have closely monitored area mink ranches since the threats began in June.

"They mentioned Summit County because we have fur breeders here," Sheriff's Office Detective Ron Bridge said about the threats. "It was general for the fur breeding industry. But obviously we were named because we have fur farms in our county."

Nothing suspicious related to eco-terrorism has been found in the county, he said.

"There are some court cases going on right now with some persons who are being sent through the judicial system who have committed crimes against fur farmers," Bridge said about cases in Utah. "Because of that we always keep our eye out at times like this just because we never know if somebody is going to retaliate."

Ranchers in Summit County were similarly warned in fall 2008 that activists may try to release their captive mink. Those threats came on the heels of a raid last year at a Davis County fur farm by members of the militant Animal Liberation Front.

The Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, frequently breaks the law by inflicting economic sabotage against people who profit from raising mink.

"It's interesting that they would consider these threats, when really all these people are saying is that they're going to come and liberate these captive mink that are being kept in small cages, having all of their natural, wild instincts thwarted," said Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office.

With its many mink farms, Utah is a target for animal-rights activists.

"We don't think that keeping a wild animal in captivity and then killing it and stripping its skin off to make a fashion garment is justification for the immense amount of suffering that is being caused," Vlasak said in a telephone interview.

Attacks on mink farms can increase when cases involve animal-rights activists in court.

"There are a couple people in Utah who have been charged with liberating these captive mink, and sometimes when those people are unjustly charged with these liberations, other people will go out in solidarity with them and release more mink from conditions of captivity," Vlasak said.

Utah counties which produce the most mink pelts include Cache, Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah and Summit.

"I understand that people have differences of opinion and that's fine. There is room for all kinds of that. But to be able to do that in a non-criminal, non-destructive way is essential for our society," said Matt Hargreaves, director of communications for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. "There may be people who even, sitting down talking to each other, are never going to be supportive. But it's a legitimate business, it's a legal business and these people care about their animals, their families and their communities."

Many mink that activists release were born and raised in captivity, Hargreaves said.

"People who go about trying to set them free, I think, might be misinformed," Hargreaves said. "These mink don't just adjust to the wild. A lot of them are going to perish."

And there are critics of many industries, he stressed.

"There are people who don't like Walmart, but you can't just walk into a Walmart and start throwing their merchandise on the floor and breaking windows and stuff," Hargreaves said.