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Activists suspected in release of mink from Grand Meadow farm

GRAND MEADOW — While not claiming responsibility for releasing thousands of mink in the past few days — including 500 from a farm near here — an animal rights activist group is praising the action.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi, though, is shaking her head.

"When they release these creatures, they don't realize that they die," she said Tuesday. "They can't survive in the wild."

The fact that Einar Myhre, who owns the farm near Grand Meadow, also lives on the site, may have saved him from losing even more of the animals during the Sunday night raid, Amazi said.

"His dogs awakened him," she said. "He went out and drove around in his truck and apparently scared them off, so they only got into one building."

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Myhre has not returned repeated phone messages.

Each building houses about 500 mink; Myhre has five or six buildings on the farm, Amazi said. With a value of about $100 per head, it can be a lucrative business — and a devastating loss.

Myhre called law enforcement immediately, the sheriff said. All but about 60 were returned to the farm by Tuesday afternoon thanks to the efforts of family, friends and deputies. The farm is about 25 miles southwest of Rochester.

The mink that aren't recovered aren't likely to live.

"Rather than a humane harvest, they die of starvation, or get hit by a car or get eaten by something else," Amazi said.

Her office is investigating, and the FBI and Fur Commission USA, which represents mink farmers, are also involved. The crime falls under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Friday night, 2,000 mink were released from cages at Bonlander Furs in New Holstein, Wis. One of the farm's owners, Virginia Bonlander, said about 100 family, friends and other mink farmers helped locate the mink in traps and by hand Saturday. By the afternoon, about 1,500 had been captured.

In the weeks prior, additional animals have been set free from farms in Idaho, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Montana and Utah.

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Animal Liberation Front has taken credit for three of the incidents, while the rest have gone either unclaimed, or were claimed without naming a group affiliation. ALF claims multiple groups are at work.

Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA, said his trade group is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those behind the activist campaign, which he believes are carried out by independent cells of ALF.

"Thousands of these animals die painfully and suffering; most die of dehydration within 24 hours," Whelan said. "They die on the road, because they're attracted to traffic. We've had cases where hundreds of these animals have just been squished on the highway."

Whelan, "is devastated right now, working hard to get his mink in shape, Myrhe said. "They've been through an extremely traumatic experience; many of them die of stress. These animals have had a lot of their wildlife instincts bred out of them: Most of them don't even leave the area when they're released. They sit by their pens and the ALF people kick them out."

The Myrhes have operated their farm for more than 50 years, and have faced little or no local opposition, Amazi said.

"This is farming community," she said. "That's kind of what we do: raise creatures to kill them and use them as part of our livelihood."

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