Activists release hundreds of mink from ranch in southeastern Minnesota

Animal activists targeting the industry released animals from southeastern Minnesota ranch.

JENNA ROSS and PAUL WALSH , Star-Tribune
October 8, 2013

 Mink are valued by the high-end fashion industry for their fur. Pelting season is drawing near. Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Mink are valued by the high-end fashion industry for their fur. Pelting season is drawing near.
Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Animal activists’ efforts to free minks and cripple a facet of the fur industry this week hit Minnesota, the nation’s fifth-largest mink producer.

Hundreds of mink were set loose from a southeastern Minnesota ranch this week, just days after Wisconsin fur farm owners scrambled to catch their own mink with fishing nets following a similar action they called “devastating.”

The four-generation Myhre ranch east of Grand Meadow, Minn., was targeted late Sunday or early Monday. Workers, friends and fellow farmers helped retrieve the 450 or so mink, owner Einar Myhre said.

By Tuesday, dozens were still missing.

“Very few of them will survive in the wild because they’ve never been taught,” he said. “We just picked up a dead one on the road this morning that got hit.”

Myhre is expecting difficulties with some of the mink that have been retrieved because “when they have been on the ground and been in the creek, they’ll get sick and we’ll lose them.”

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said Tuesday that investigators believe “at least two people” released the mink and are responsible for burglary and property damage. No arrests have been made, Amazi said.

Each mink is worth about $100, the sheriff said, so “it’s a substantial loss.”

The release was one of at least nine around the country in the past several months involving the fur-bearing mink, according to Animal Liberation Frontline, a website run by a former Animal Liberation Front member who tracks these actions. “The U.S. fur farming industry is under a total siege right now,” the site claims.

“This is being done solely to save animals,” said Peter Young, who runs the website and lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. “Our focus is to get the greatest number of animals out in the most efficient way possible.”

Still, activists “celebrate” the closure of farms after these “raids,” said Young, who served two years in federal prison for releasing mink on six farms, including in Wisconsin. “The best possible scenario is that … the farm has to shut down.”

Animal activists target mink ranches partly because “the industry is defeatable,” Young said by phone. “It’d be much harder to bring down the meat industry, for example.”

Myhre sees these activists as nothing more than “lawbreakers who think they are doing a good thing. I don’t go to their house and start a fire. I don’t think they should come to my place to release livestock that I have raised.”

While some activists claim mink are kept caged in inhumane conditions, Myhre said that “we exceed the standards” set by the industry.

“We’ve got an [industry] certification here,” he said of the 53-year-old ranch that his father started and now counts Myhre’s two sons and a grandson among its operators.

“A vet comes about every other year and checks the site and does an inspection, and sees that there are big enough pens, that they are raised in a clean and humane manner, that there is adequate food and water,” he said.

Mink have also been released from farms in Idaho, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Montana and Utah. A farm in New Holstein, Wis., was targeted Friday, when about 2,000 mink were let loose.

Virginia Bonlander woke at 5 a.m. Saturday to a police officer’s banging on the door of her home in New Holstein. Police had gotten 911 reports of mink on the road, she said. A couple phone calls later, more than 100 people were searching fields, sheds and ditches for the mink.

The group was able to gather about 1,500 to 1,700 mink, said Bonlander, who has owned the ranch with her husband since 1978. The people responsible “are a bunch of idiots,” Bonlander said Tuesday.

“They have no clue what goes on on a farm,” she said. “This is our livelihood.”

There are about 50 mink farms in Minnesota, behind only Wisconsin, Utah, Idaho and Oregon in mink production, according the trade group Fur Commission USA. Nationwide, there are about 300 farms in 23 states.

Nearly all of the demand for mink comes from overseas, with the Chinese market importing at least 70 percent of U.S.-produced pelts, said Michael Whelan, executive director of the commission. Prices for pelts have nearly tripled in recent years, he added.

The commission is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to activists behind the campaign, which Whelan said has been going on for at least six weeks. “The perpetrators are not heroes, or idealists; they are felons,” Whelan said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Frontline website posted a statement it said came from the person taking responsibility for the Minnesota action. The site predicted that more attacks on mink farms would be coming. “With pelting season still two months away, this campaign may not even be close to finished,” the website said.

Bonlander recommended mink farmers install cameras and security systems — something she’s done since Saturday.

“If these animal liberation folks think they can put the mink farmers out of business,” Bonlander said, “they’ve got another think coming.”