Mink ranchers in Summit County are on ‘heightened alert’
On the heels of a raid last month by animal-rights activists at a mink ranch in Davis County fur farmers in Oakley contacted the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to report suspicious people milling around their ranch.
Someone spotted two suspicious cars near mink sheds on Franson Lane Sept. 28 at about 1:50 a.m., according to a police report. The vehicles were reportedly driven toward an arena in Oakley and the headlights were shut off.
Meanwhile, people who eventually left the same area in Oakley toward Kamas Sept. 27 "were asking questions about the mink farm," a separate police report states.
A deputy searched the mink farm for a "prowler" Sept. 26. Another caller that day at about 5 p.m. told a dispatcher a purple Dodge Neon with a California license plate drove through the neighborhood suspiciously.
"We have advised local mink ranchers to be on heightened alert because there could possibly be individuals who are associated with radical organizations who may attempt to damage their property or release their animals," Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said in a telephone interview Thursday. "There could be radicals in the area."
Activists with the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for releasing thousands of mink from a Kaysville farm Sept. 21.
"They can expect further raids based on the communiqués we receive," North American Animal Liberation Press Office spokesman Jerry Vlasak said about Utah mink ranchers.
The Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, frequently breaks the law to help animals by inflicting economic sabotage against people who profit from abusing mink, Vlasak said.
"There have been people who have called them terrorists, but in reality they are an anti-terrorist organization. They’re trying to stop the terror," he said about ALF.
In 2006, 46,000 mink pelts were produced in Summit County, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food 2007 annual report. Mink ranches statewide produced about 602,840 pelts that year.
Sixty mink are needed to make one fur coat, explained Vlasak, who calls fur farms "hellish places."
Some mink ranchers in Summit County in the past few years have turned down interview requests from The Park Record.
"Animal cruelty in its many forms cannot stand the spotlight," Vlasak said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, Calif. "Most people, when they see the ways these animals are treated, when they see the way they’re raised, they would be against it. People who torture and kill animals to make a living do not want the public to see what they’re doing."
But animal-rights activists who attempt to carry out domestic terrorism in Summit County will be stopped, Sheriff Edmunds vowed.
"They’re criminals and I don’t sympathize with them one iota," Edmunds said. "If you’ve got ranchers who are in the business of raising animals for their living, they have a right to protect them."
Those who cross state lines to commit crimes could face federal charges, Edmunds said.
"We have talked with the ranchers and we have talked with the federal authorities," the sheriff explained.
Mink ranching "is a viable agricultural industry," said Sterling Banks, Utah State University Extension Agent for Summit County.
"Their end product is the pelts," said Banks, adding that a skinned mink provides one pelt.
About 16,420 female mink were raised in Summit County in 2007, Banks said. Utah counties which produce the most mink pelts include Cache, Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah and Summit.
The rich tradition of mink ranching in Summit County culminated with the breeding of world renowned Black Willow mink in Coalville, Banks said.
"The sad thing of it is that you turn those mink out and they’re not wild-trained animals," he said, adding that mink released by activists die from exposure or are run over by cars. "You’re doing greater harm turning them loose."
But Vlasak disagreed.
"Most of these animals that do get loose have a least a chance of survival, whereas 100 percent of them will be killed if they’re left in the cages," Vlasak said. "If it was me being held in a cage I’d take that shot at freedom if I had that chance. It doesn’t take any sort of intuition at all to realize that a genetically wild animal doesn’t want to spend his entire life in a tiny wire cage."
The popularity of fur has declined since peaking in the 1970s and ’80s, he explained.
"Fur coats do not represent prestige, wealth and glamour. They really represent the torture, pain and death of these animals all for the profit of the fur industry," Vlasak said. "They’re making money off the suffering off non-human animals and that’s tragic and embarrassing."
Still, nothing is as warm as a real fur coat, said Jody Jensen, a manager at a fur gallery in Park City.
"Nothing manmade can keep you as warm as fur. That’s why the trappers wore fur, that’s why the cavemen wore fur," Jensen said in a telephone interview.
Animal-rights activists have forced a century-old furrier in Oregon out of business, she lamented.
"Animals don’t have souls Have you ever met a mink? First of all they’re the meanest, ugliest critters on the Earth and they will bite and attack," Jensen said.
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