For Immediate Release, January 15, 2021

Contact:

Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6405, laburd@biologicaldiversity.org
Hannah Connor, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 681-1676, hconnor@biologicaldiversity.org

Oregon Officials Petitioned to Add Farmed Mink to State Prohibited Species List

Conservationists Urge Action to Protect Wildlife, Public Health Following COVID-19 Outbreak, Repeated Mink Escapes at Mink Facility

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a rulemaking petition today asking the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to add mink to the state’s prohibited species list.

The petition follows Tuesday’s announcement that two of three trapped mink believed to have escaped from a quarantined, 12,000-animal mink fur-farming operation have tested positive for COVID-19 and that the virus continues to spread within the facility.

Adding mink to the prohibited species list would prohibit the possession of live mink in Oregon unless a facility can demonstrate that it can prevent escapes, minimize the spread of disease, and take good care of the animals.

“Enough is enough. With COVID-19 infected mink continuing to escape from this quarantined, COVID-infected facility it’s obvious that this industry poses far too great of a threat to wildlife and public health to allow it to continue to operate as is,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “We’re asking state wildlife regulators to do their job and take the action necessary to ensure that infected mink don’t spread this deadly virus to wild animals.”

Mink are members of the mustelid family, which in Oregon includes native mink, federally protected Humboldt martens, Pacific fishers, wolverines, ermines, long-tailed weasels, American badgers and river otters. In addition to concern that COVID-19 infected mink escaped from commercial fur operations could infect other mustelids, the Center is also concerned that they could infect their predators, such as American bald eagles, great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats and wolves.

There is also the risk that prey, such as ducks, mice and rabbits, that escape the clutches of an infected mink could contract and further spread the virus. In these ways, the spread of COVID-19 from infected mink could potentially lead to deadly outbreaks in the wild and wild animal reservoirs of the virus.

There are 11 permitted fur-rearing operations in Oregon, with approximately 438,000 total animals. For a fur-rearing facility to require a permit in Oregon, it must hold more than 10,000 animals. There are an unknown number of smaller mink-rearing operations in the state.

“We know farmed mink in Oregon keep getting infected by the coronavirus, and we know they keep escaping into the wild,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center. “The only question that remains is, how devastating will Oregon allow the consequences to be? Our hope is that state officials act fast on this petition so that wildlife don’t have to pay a terrible price for their inaction.”

Background

On Nov. 6, weeks before the recent outbreak, the Center wrote to the Oregon agencies urging them to take active measures to ensure that COVID-19 was not spreading at Oregon’s mink facilities. That letter followed news that Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, planned to kill more than 15 million mink after COVID-19 transmission between humans and mink resulted in hundreds of people being infected with COVID-19 from mink, including with strains containing mutations that originated in the mink. COVID-19 can spread bi-directionally between humans and mink.

On Nov. 19 Oregon state agencies responded by refusing to commit to any specific actions to stem the unique threat from mink operations. That same day Oregon recorded its first reported cases of mink experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

The Center followed up with a Dec. 1 letter detailing how, after refusing to do proactive testing at mink operations, state officials had also refused to release basic information it routinely releases following workplace outbreaks, including the name and location of the facility and the number of people infected. That failure potentially jeopardized public health and contact tracing efforts.

COVID-19 has hit mink-production facilities across the country. Since August the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced confirmed cases of COVID-19 in mink-rearing operations in Utah, Wisconsin and Michigan, with at least 15,000 mink succumbing to the virus. A wild mink in Utah that tested positive for COVID-19 last month is thought to be the first wild animal to be infected with the virus.

Like factory farms that raise animals for food, mink-farming operations have long been known for the risk they pose to the environment, biodiversity and public health. Factory farms and the international wildlife trade are leading breeding grounds for novel and dangerous pathogens like COVID-19.

Caged minks/Jo-Anne McArthur hashtag MakeFurHistory
Caged minks/Jo-Ann McArthur, #MakeFurHistory Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.