Activists Move to Sue Operator of a Gray Wolf Fur Farm
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has threatened to sue a private wildlife operation in Minnesota, alleging that its owner kills and skins federally protected gray wolves and sells the pelts for profit.
On Wednesday, ALDF sent a notice of intent to file suit against Teresa Petter, owner of Fur-Ever Wild, whose website describes it as “a working agricultural farm that celebrates our traditional connections to the land and mother nature.”
Fur-Ever Wild, located on 100 acres in Eureka Township, Minnesota, charges visitors to get up close not only with wolves but also cougars, bobcats, otters, beavers, lynx, fishers, martens, and badgers.
ALDF will take Fur-Ever Wild to court in 60 days unless Petter agrees not to kill and skin gray wolves, which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as threatened in Minnesota.
The Endangered Species Act prohibits the taking of any endangered or threatened species, defining “take” to mean “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The law, which applies equally to wild and captive animals, allows private parties to file suit to enforce its provisions.
“Fur-Ever Wild’s wildlife exhibition and fur-harvesting business exploits wolf pups by first using them as an attraction in the company’s petting zoo, then later skinning them for their fur,” Jennifer Robbins, an attorney representing ALDF, wrote in the notice.
“There is broad public support to stop their continual taking of wolves that visitors pay to see…and for whom they donate money or materials believing they are supporting the maintenance of this threatened species,” she wrote in the notice, which was also sent to the Interior Department, which enforces the ESA.
“We got involved in the summer of 2015 after activists notified us of her operations,” said ALDF staff attorney Christopher Berry. “Evidence that we submitted shows that she has skinned wolves in the past.”
Petter has denied killing wolves. In May, she told The Associated Press that the animals were not used for fur unless they “die naturally.”
Reached by phone, Petter told TakePart, “I am not commenting.” When asked why, she replied, “Because someone already burned down one of our buildings.” Asked if the alleged arson was related to the skinning of wolves, Petter said, “Have a nice day” and hung up.
Public records indicate that Fur-Ever Wild has indeed slaughtered wolves for their pelts.
Several license applications Fur-Ever Wild filed with the state “depict the calculated breeding program of protected wolves as the company aimed to acquire a wolf population that could generate consistent replacements for those animals to be killed and skinned for fur,” according to the ALDF notice.
During 2014–15, for example, Fur-Ever Wild said that 19 wolves were born and listed 19 wolves under a heading called “Number of deaths (butchered for consumption).” The previous year, it said 34 wolves were born and 24 died.
It would be “an impossible scenario if they are claimed to have expired from natural causes,” ALDF alleged.
In 2012, Petter filed a lawsuit against Eureka Township contesting a 2005 ordinance against keeping exotic animals unless they are raised for fur.
In a deposition during the suit, which was later withdrawn, Petter said that the wolves were bred and killed for their pelts.
“Have you pelted anything in the past two months?” Petter was asked.
“I pelted two wolves last night,” she replied. “And there is another two going tonight…then the rest of them go. There will be 25 within the next two weeks.”
Petter said she pelted the wolves in the winter, when their fur is considered “prime.” She also claimed to breed wolves that are much larger than those found in the wild.
“You breed for bloodlines,” Petter said. “You breed for fur quality. It takes years to get to that.”
Said Berry: “She was trying to prove that her operation was agricultural and therefore not subject to the local exotic animal ordinance.”
Petter’s legal woes extend beyond the threatened ALDF lawsuit. Earlier this year, neighbors who complained of odors and noise from the farm sued the township for approving Petter’s operation. A district court ruled against the plaintiffs, but that decision was overturned by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. It is now up to the district court to determine which animals can stay and which must go.
In August, Petter said she would close a second facility that opened on Memorial Day in Deadwood, South Dakota, after that town placed several restrictions on its operations.