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Wisconsin mink industry warned of outbreak in Europe animalsSubmitted: 06/29/2020
Wisconsin mink industry warned of outbreak in Europe animals
Story By Associated Press

MADISON - Wisconsin animal health officials are cautioning the state's mink producers about the dangers of the coronavirus following outbreaks among animals on several farms in Europe, spurring renewed calls from animal rights activists to ban the fur trade.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the state's $223 million mink industry, which is the largest in America. Still, producers say they're taking precautions to protect their herds, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Kevin Hoffman, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the agency released guidance this month from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control for veterinarians who work with Wisconsin's mink ranches.

The guidance revealed that the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in mink on multiple farms in the Netherlands and research has shown ferrets, a close relative of mink, can catch and spread the disease in laboratory settings. It noted that there is no evidence suggesting that animals "play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans," though it cautioned that further study was needed.

Many coronaviruses can spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching an infected person, but officials said the present illness does not not transmit readily between people. Earlier this year, the Wuhan (China) Municipal Health Commission said some of the infected patients ran businesses in a seafood market, meaning it's possible they were infected by animals there. The market was suspended and under investigation.

Last week, Hoffman said his agency hadn't received any reports of suspected mink infections in Wisconsin.

The state, which had 67 mink farms as of the last USDA census, supplied nearly half of the country's roughly 3 million pelts sold in 2018. The state's fur exports that year were worth close to $227 million, DATCP estimates.

Bob Zimbal is the owner of Zimbal Minkery in Sheboygan, the state's largest mink producer. He said he's not concerned about the potential for infection, noting that his operation has always had biosecurity procedures in place and is now doing temperature checks on staffers.

U.S. animal rights activists contend that the European outbreak shows that confined animal breeding is a public health matter, and they want to see more controls on the mostly unregulated domestic fur industry.

"Mink farms are really kind of breeding grounds for infectious diseases," said PJ Smith, director of fashion policy for the Humane Society of the United States. "Not only is this industry horribly cruel to animals and bad for the environment, but now it's a risk for the spread of COVID-19."

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Local and small businesses were out in full force trying to make profits for the season with Fall ride concluding the festival season. The town of Tomahawk had less attendees than last year but the hotels had no problem filling their rooms. The owner of the Four Seasons Motel, Andy Wadia, said September is their busiest time of year.

"So many people came from Chicago, Minnesota, Iowa, some from California so it's good," said Wadia. "Good for the business good for the town, you know local business is good for local business you know." 

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Public Lands Forester, of Florence County, Tyler Wood explained how the Emerald Ash Borer likes to travel on firewood, to reduce the spread to other places, burn the wood in the same place you bought or gathered it.

"The Emerald Ash Borer can fly easily about a half a mile, and up to maybe 5 miles away from a host tree to find another tree in order to infect that tree," said Wood.

Though there won't be a significant impact on the environment in Florence county, not knowing if your tree is infected could lead to safety concerns around your property or for people with streets lined with the trees, dangerous roadways could occur during storms.

Forest Health Specialist, Linda Williams, spoke about how the future extinction would affect more than just the forest. The MLB uses ash trees to make their baseball bats, as well as the local Native American tribes whos culture traditions create baskets from ash.

"The Emerald Ash Borer will kill the Ash Trees. And we've seen that happening in southern Wisconsin as well as other states that have had it for much longer than us. Other species of trees tend to come into those sites sometimes they are desirable species and some are not," said Williams..

If you are a concerned ash tree owner some signs that your tree has been infested is the outer bark removed by woodpeckers, and D-shaped holes where the insects have emerged.

For people with 10 plus acres you can file a request with the DNR to have a walk through to understand how to manage the Emerald Ash Borer at mywisconsinwoods.org.


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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' office said Caleb Frostman stepped down after the governor called for his resignation. Republicans have peppered Evers with criticism for months over the department's inability to process tens of thousands of benefit claims that have been flowing in since the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. in March.

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