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Spanish Fork fur farmer frets over spotlight

SPANISH FORK — In 1997, a group of "straight edge" gang members sneaked onto Paul Westwood's Spanish Fork fur farm and released 1,100 minks from their cages.

Because attacks like these are fairly common in Utah — which has more fur farms than any other state — most mink farmers try to avoid the spotlight.

It may come as a surprise, then, that Westwood is featured on the cover of today's Parade magazine, alongside the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cameron Diaz.

Parade editor Dakila Divina says Westwood was selected for the annual "What People Earn" issue because his job is unusual. Westwood said he reluctantly agreed to participate in the survey, but admits the publicity makes him nervous.

"I don't want to create a lot of attention because I don't want the animal-rights people on my back," Westwood said. "I wasn't real excited about it, but I guess I was willing."

The weekly magazine, which appears in today's Deseret News, reveals that Westwood makes $68,000 a year. By comparison, Schwarzenegger makes $35 million, a police officer in West Virginia makes $28,000 and a dancer in Las Vegas makes $125,000 a year.

"We sent out reporters to get a cross-section of America. We wanted to get different jobs, different age groups, different salaries," Divina said. "What we found out is the vast majority of Americans do not feel confident about the economy."

Westwood said a Parade reporter probably contacted him because he is the president of the national Fur Commission, which represents more than 600 mink-farming families on more than 400 farms in 31 states.

Westwood's farm is not especially large — he has about 3,300 females on five acres. The largest mink farm in Utah, and one of the largest in the nation, is the multimillion-dollar McLachan ranch in Lehi, which has about 100,000 mink.

Westwood said mink farming does well in Utah because of the state's Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-op, which mixes and delivers feed to farmers.

The co-op picks up animal byproducts that are unsuitable for human consumption, such as the intestines, head or organs, from beef, fish and poultry processors. Without mink farms, Westwood says these byproducts would rot in landfills.

One fur farm in Wisconsin, which produces 100,000 mink pelts a year, feeds its animals 2 million pounds of expired cheeses and 1 million pounds of damaged eggs annually. The Fur Commission estimates fur farms worldwide consume more than a billion pounds of these byproducts annually.

"Fur farmers serve a relatively important service in society," Westwood said.

Animal-rights activists disagree, as Westwood was reminded in 1997. He recovered most of the mink that were released from his farm that night, but the rest were run over in the street. He estimates that cost him thousands of dollars, but says the destruction of breeding records by the same group cost him even more.

He hopes the Parade publicity doesn't attract more extreme groups, but for now Westwood has the last laugh.

On the magazine's cover he is pictured alongside a national coordinator for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), William Rivas-Rivas.

Westwood made $68,000 last year — a down year. Rivas-Rivas made $25,000.


E-mail: jhyde@desnews.com