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Fur farm targeted by ecoterrorists

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A Ronan family business has become a Mecca of sorts for ecoterrorists hoping to strike a blow against the fur industry.

March 7 was the latest attack on the Fraser Fur Farm, located off Terrace Lake Road. On that night people who label themselves as “activists” entered the farm with intent to release all animals from cages, but were hindered by security floodlights and guard dogs. According to an anonymous claim circulated by Operation Bite Back and the Animal Liberation Front, the group managed to destroy the breeding records on the outside of cages in an attempt “to ensure the loss of irreplaceable genetic lines, rendering the breeding stock of a given fur-producing business lost.”

Owner Kathy Richwine was able to confirm the attack, but would not confirm the significance of the destroyed records for fear of giving possible future attackers fuel for the cause. Richwine’s family has owned the fur farm for more than four decades, and has seen the animal rights movement escalate during that time. She counts herself lucky among the stewards of natural resources, some of whom have seen facilities burned to the ground in major arson cases. Still, there’s a sickening feeling of having personal space violated that lingers for the Richwines. 

The farm has been attacked three times since 2009, and surveillance of the farm has been documented in a book by activist Rod Coronado. Coronado was sentenced to 57 months in prison for participating in a major arson fire at Michigan State University in 1992 that caused millions of dollars in damage to the university’s mink research farm. Coronado also caused $2 million worth of damage to a whaling boat in 1986. 

Prior to September 11, 2001, acts by Coronado and other members of the Animal Liberation Front led the Federal Bureau of Investigation to list ecoterrorism as one of the biggest threats to national security. In 2004 the FBI estimated that more than 1,100 crimes had been committed by the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front since 1976 to the tune of more than $100 million in damage.

Richwine said her family and the ecoterrorists have completely different ideas about the natural order of the world. Her world view is Biblically established, with humans having dominion over the earth and its creatures. 

“Those people put animals over humans,” Richwine said.

In spite of the vandalism, Richwine said she’d have few words for the culprits that she hopes are someday caught. 

“I’d tell them that Jesus loves you,” Richwine said. Although the group of vandals claim the animals are mistreated, those claims are invalid, according to Richwine.

“It’s completely untrue. My dad taught me if you take care of the animals, they’ll take care of you,” Richwine said. 

Peter Young disagrees with Richwine’s claims. Young is a former member of the Animal Liberation Front who served prison time for releasing between 8,000 and 12,000 mink in a 1997 series of farm raids across the Midwest. Young trespassed on the Richwine’s property while on the road trip that ultimately landed him in prison. 

“We did get close enough to see the animals,” Young said. “It’s a quite a sight.” 

Young said he saw approximately 100 bobcats in small cages and wanted to release the animals, but the proximity to the Richwine’s house prevented that.

“It’s quite sad to see what these animals have to endure for the sake of a fur coat,” Young said. 

He described the process of entering one of the animal sheds as “nerve-wracking,” because of the high risk of getting caught.

“It was a very difficult situation to navigate,” Young said. “There were two houses on the property.” 

Young said that at the time, the activists thought they would be able to release lynx from the farm to increase populations of the feline in the Montana wild. Young cited studies that indicate mink can survive after being released into the wild from captivity. 

Pat Jamieson, Outdoor Planner for the National Bison Range, wasn’t as sure bobcats or lynx would make it in the wild. 

“It’s tough being a predator,” Jamieson said. “Cats are taught to hunt by their parents. If they have to learn on their own, they might do OK, or they might not.” 

Jamieson also pointed out that introducing large numbers of animals to an area can have disastrous unintended results on an ecosystem, even if those animals are native to the area. 

“Everything has its niche,” Jamieson said. 

Immediate release of the animals into the wild is the ultimate goal of the activists, Young said. 

“Petitions don’t work,” Young said. “Raiding fur farms does work. The goal is to save animals. The most effective and efficient way to save animals is to go onto a fur farm and open the cages. That’s the most direct route to achieve what we’re trying to achieve.” 

The Richwine’s fur farm is a what Young called a “legendary” target for the animal rights movement because it is believed to be the largest wildcat fur farm in the United States. The activists are often vegan, anti-dairy, anti-egg, and anti-meat, Young said. 

“Fur is just simply an easy target,” Young said. “It’s a winnable cause.” 

The actions can be met with harsh punishments. The antics of the activists fall under the purview of the FBI and terrorism laws, according to Lake County Undersheriff Dan Yonkin. The activists are willing to risk the high stakes. 

“As far as the laws go, we consider these to be unjust laws,” Young said. “Just like slavery was legal for a long time and now society’s evolved to where we no longer consider that to be ethical, the same applies to raising animals in captivity for human consumption, use. We may be a little bit ahead of our time as far as this goes, but society is rapidly catching up to the idea that animals are not here for humans to use.” 

Antiquated or not, the law stands, and Yonkin said there are ways community members can help catch the criminals. 

“These people aren’t parachuting in,” Yonkin said. “They often park nearby and walk in.” 

Yonkin said people can help deputies in their investigation by reporting suspicious vehicles parked off Terrace Lake Road, especially those with out-of-state license plates.

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