USDA revokes Summer Wind Farms’ license

Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary has until the end of September to donate or sell its animals.

The Brown City-based exhibitor has long been feeling the pressure from animal advocates and federal regulators over condition of its animals, enclosures and care processes, including being a prime exhibit in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “rubber stamping” license renewals.

But it wasn’t until an order dated Tuesday that the USDA formally revoked Summer Wind Farms’ Animal Welfare Act license, ordering the facility to cease and desist from violating the act’s standards.  

Chuck Vanneste, the sanctuary’s owner, has been critical of scrutiny from the USDA, as well as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which promoted the department’s ruling.

On Thursday, he said he wasn’t free to comment on the latest action, but added, “We’re still negotiating. We’re still talking with the USDA to coordinate what to do.”

Within the last year, those citations included failure to recognize health concerns of animals in a timely manner, cleanliness of available water for animals, food storage, and a lack of trained employees.

The facility is run primarily with volunteers, and as recently as May, two tigers were sent to a Minnesota-based sanctuary to address health issues.

Vanneste said the latter had been his decision, despite PETA’s claim the tigers been rescued after it publicized a video of Summer Wind Farm’s grounds.

Earlier this summer, PETA’s suit against the USDA, which named Summer Wind Farms among example animal exhibitors, was rebuffed in a decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the feds had the discretion to renew licenses for animal exhibitors.

In a statement Thursday, however, Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation director of captive animal law enforcement, said that “after years of appalling neglect and apparent indifference to animals’ suffering,” the Brown City facility was to “face the music” with the USDA’s recent order.

“This is a tremendous victory for the animals who have been denied basic necessities for so long, and PETA stands ready to help find reputable sanctuary homes for them,” she said.

Vanneste is required to allow the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to inventory the sanctuary’s animals twice, under the order — once prior to and after dispersal.

But the order states he can also retain several animals for the remainder of their natural lives, including a coyote, a long-tailed Java macaque, two bears, and a Japanese snow macaque, as long as they aren’t used for purposes of exhibition as regulated under the AWA.

Summer Wind Farms has had several bears and big cats, and dozens of monkeys, foxes, birds and petting zoo animals.

The USDA’s order also states the facility could incur a $25,000 fine if requirements are not met.


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