Doyle Checketts, left, and Monty Ages hold up a recaptured mink. Many were killed or injured after an unidentified person or group purposefully released them.

Photo by Erin Fenner

Doyle Checketts, left, and Monty Ages hold up a recaptured mink. Many were killed or injured after an unidentified person or group purposefully released them.

Moffat County mink farmers denied permit to set up new location

Fur farms in Moffat and Routt counties

Moffat County once was home to a number of fur farms. It’s a good place to produce fur: the winters are cold; the perfect weather for thick fur coats.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado has documentation showing that chinchilla farms and silver fox farms were once scattered across Moffat and Routt counties, but they disappeared as fur became less of a commodity in the United States.

The last time there was a mink farm in Moffat County was in the 1940s, according to the museum.

Bill Rippy was just a young boy — not even in grade school yet — when his father, a fur trapper, worked the mink farm. The property was owned by Gene Dresser, but the Rippys managed it for a few years.

They used horse meat to feed the mink.

“They used to slaughter their horses up on the hill. That’s where they got their mink feed,” Rippy said.

Mink used to run around wild then, he said. There was a difference between the “wild mink” and “ranch mink,” but Rippy’s father still caught them, along with beavers and muskrats, and turned them into thick fur pelts.

“Back in those days you did everything in the world to make a living,” Rippy said.

photo

Courtesy photo/Museum of Northwest Colorado

The Rippy family managed a mink farm in the early 1940s. It's the last documented mink farm before the Western Knolls mink farm that started in 2009, according to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

A mink farm that’s been under pressure in the past week was denied a conditional-use permit by Moffat County commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.

Moffat County commissioners said that while they support private property rights, they didn’t feel the farmers demonstrated they deserved a permit.

The farmers pursued the permit even after an unidentified individual or group raided their farm. The Moffat County Sheriff’s Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the incident.

All of the farmers’ mink were set free in the raid, and although many were recaptured, all are useless as breeding stock, according to the farmers. Whoever raided the farm removed breeding cards, making it impossible for the farmers to identify the mink.

Now, the animals only can be sold for their pelts, decreasing the price of the mink from more than $250,000 to about $10,000, the farmers said, noting that they had an overseas contract to sell the mink as breeding stock, and now that’s null and void.

In an anonymous email, the Earth Liberation Front alleged that it perpetrated the act and praised the individual or individuals who carried it out.

This is the eighth raid of a mink farm in 2013, Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA, said.

“Back in the 1990s, there were upwards of 20 to 25 raids a year,” he said.

Since then, law enforcement has stepped up its response to these sort of raids, which now qualify as terrorist acts. In 2012, there were no mink farm raids.

The raid wasn’t all the Moffat County mink farmers were up against.

The farm, on property in Western Knolls subdivision, is owned by Sherman Romney, attorney and owner of Romney Law Office. The farmers do not have a permit to run the operation on their existing property but were seeking a conditional- use permit from the county for new proposed site on James Gore’s property that’s roughly 5 miles north of Craig on Colorado Highway 13.

But neighbors spoke against the operation.

Gore provided only a brief comment about not getting a permit.

“It is what it is,” he said. Gore already had built a new mink farm facility on his property, which was supposed to be governed by tighter regulations on how the farm was to be maintained.

Herman Venzke, who lives near the proposed location, said he didn’t trust the farmers would be able to maintain the property. The facility they built in the new location is not much better than the existing sheds, he said.

“It’s not as bad as it is in Western Knolls, but it’s still a hodgepodged (set-up) that won’t hold anything,” he said.

The smell is a main concern for most residents. The mink eat raw meat and have a strong musk odor, and neighbors complain that the feces aren’t cleaned up often enough.

But Ryan Venzke (Herman Venzke’s son), who lives next to the existing farm in Western Knolls, said he’s concerned about the threat the mink pose to his animals and his 16-month-old child.

“Now that all of these got loose, what’s going to happen?” he said.

Mink have escaped in the past, killed his chickens and scratched at his daughter’s window, he said. He’s had his house on the market the past year because he didn’t want to live near the mink farm, but it’s been a hard sell and the value of his property keeps going down, he said.

Now with about 50 mink unaccounted for, he is concerned about mink attacks.

“It’s just a matter of time as far as I’m concerned,” Venzke said.

Both commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting voted against the mink farm permit. Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers was not present because he was on vacation.

County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said he had a few problems with the farmers’ proposal. He said buildings on the proposed property were built without a permit, there have been many complaints from neighbors of the existing farm and the farmers were supposed to have vacated the Western Knolls property in June.

“There’s been no attempt to clean up anything,” he said. “We’re going to give a conditional-use permit to someone with a track record?”

County Commissioner John Kinkaid also voted against giving the farmers a permit.

“I believe in property rights,” he said. “But I believe the neighbors have property rights, too.”

The farmers left the meeting without comment, but the neighbors of the existing property and the proposed location stayed in the courthouse and expressed their relief.

“I feel bad for the (farmers). They had high hopes,” said Janice Lambrecht, who lives near Gore’s property. But “I’m very relieved. I was just losing sleep at night.”

The farmers will be evicted from their existing location in December, Romney said.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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