The Summit County Sheriff's Office is stepping up patrols at area mink ranches after a break-in on Friday in which 20 mink were released from a ranch.

Due to the sensitive nature of the case, Summit County Sheriff's Capt. Justin Martinez said information regarding the location and identity of the mink rancher cannot be released. In the early morning on Friday, Sept. 13, unknown suspects entered the mink farm and released the animals.

Martinez added, the suspects destroyed roughly 80 percent of the rancher's pedigree charts as well. Of the 20 mink set loose from the farm, all but five were found by the rancher.

"The rancher believes that someone who delivers feed for the mink scared the [suspects] away," Martinez said. "We're going to continue to monitor the farms."

Sheriff Dave Edmunds attested to the history that Summit County has had with mink ranch break-ins.

"We're well aware that Summit County mink ranches are targets," Edmunds said. "We're doing everything in our power to try to work with them to make them safe."

Winter is usually when the mink pelt harvesting season takes place, and groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are targeting mink farms in states like Utah and Wisconsin during this time, hoping to free mink from what they see as an oppressive industry.

"There are people, and we're definitely well aware of them, from out of state that feel it's their personal duty to go and release these mink," Edmunds said. "They're criminals that are interfering with a legitimate ranching operation."

Utah has taken steps to cut down on activists' efforts on operations like mink ranches by passing H.B. 187 in 2012. The law, called the "ag gag" law by many, imposes up to one year in jail for any individual who takes "unauthorized" video or photographs of agricultural operations. For mink farms, groups like ALF, however, are more focused on release efforts.

"Since this [incident], we have stepped up our proactive enforcement around mink farm areas," Martinez said. "This is definitely something we take very seriously."

Edmunds added that mink ranchers take a lot of security measures to ensure break-ins do not occur, but do not want to be in the public spotlight.

"They're trying to remain as aloof as they possibly can because they don't want to be revictimized," Edmunds said.

Martinez urges anyone who has any information on suspects involved with this case to call the Summit County Sheriff's Office at (435) 615-3600.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included two references to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and indicated that PETA is involved in ongoing "release efforts" for mink. Those references were incorrect and have since been removed.