Graphic images of wild animals trapped and tortured by a federal government employee went viral in late October, raising public outrage. The photographs – showing hunting dogs mauling leghold-trapped coyotes, raccoons, and other wild animals were posted on the personal Facebook and Twitter pages of Jamie P. Olson, an employee of the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and a coyote hunting tournament coordinator.
Olson’s job is to trap, poison, and shoot wildlife, largely at the behest of ranchers as part of the agency’s predator control program. However, intentional animal torture is not part of the job description, say wildlife advocates who are calling for an immediate termination of Olson’s service and an investigation into other reports of intentional cruelty by USDA employees.
“On Tuesday, October 30, 2012, AWI and PC received the attached photographs, which were published on Mr. Olson’s Facebook, Via.me, and Twitter pages as well as a Strongbow Airedales website. The photographs, which are described as ‘work’ photographs on one or more of these pages, depict trapped raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes in steel-jaw leghold traps. We were further alarmed that instead of immediately killing the trapped animals, this WS employee inflicted even greater fear and pain on already-suffering animals caught in these brutal traps by allowing dogs to torment or attack the trapped animals as is depicted in several of the photographs. This is unacceptable behavior for any trapper, but such wanton cruelty and callous disregard for the welfare of these animals is particularly egregious when done by a government employee and must not be tolerated.”
Wildlife advocates shared the photographs with media, which were published by news outlets across the country. Gary Strader, a former Wildlife Services trapper in Nevada, reported in the Sacramento Bee that such abuse is very common. “It always was and always will be controversial. It has never been addressed by the higher-ups. They know it happens on a regular basis,” Strader wrote.
After the photos went viral, Olsen told the Missoula Independent that he had made a “big-ass mistake” by making the photos, which were a few years old, publicly accessible. “Shit’s hitting the fan and I’m having to explain things,” he said. Olsen has since deactivated his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
This culture of cruelty and indiscriminate killing within Wildlife Services was highlighted in a four-part investigative story about the agency in The Sacramento Bee earlier this year. Among other things, the Bee found:
• With steel traps, wire snares and poison, agency employees have accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000 that were not problems, including federally protected golden and bald eagles; more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets;and several species considered rare or imperiled bywildlife biologists.
• Since 1987, at least 18 employees and several members of the public have been exposed to cyanide when they triggered spring-loaded cartridges laced with poison meant to kill coyotes. They survived – but 10 people have died and many others have been injured in crashes during agency aerial gunning operations since 1979.
The story led to a Congressional request for a federal investigation and oversight hearings into Wildlife Services.*
In their letter to Representatives Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, several members of Congress wrote:
|These photographs were posted on the personal Facebook and Twitter pages of Jamie P. Olson, an employee of the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services|
“We write today to request that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform perform a thorough investigation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Wildlife Services program. We are concerned that Wildlife Services is failing to efficiently or effectively use the resources provided to it by American taxpayers and that it is not adequately transparent or accountable to the public.
Information recently brought to light in The Sacramento Bee by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Knudson’s year-long investigation documents many serious problems that reinforce our existing concerns about Wildlife Service’s operations, especially its lethal predator control activities. As you can see from the enclosed copy, the series highlights a number of glaring problems, noting that: employees routinely hide non-target animals killed, encouraged by supervisors and the agency’s culture; some of Wildlife Services’ lethal control practices are indiscriminate; and at times lethal control is motivated by the need to keep “hunters busy during the slow winter months” rather than to protect livestock. In addition, Knudson points out that while even the military allows the media into the field, Wildlife Services does not. The Sacramento Bee’s request to observe Wildlife Services’ hunters and trappers in action was turned down by the director of Wildlife Services in Nevada.
We ask you to conduct a full and thorough investigation of Wildlife Services. Your Committee has stated its commitment to transparency and government responsibility. It is essential that you investigate USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services on their lack of transparency and their waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”
In addition to his job with Wildlife Services, Olson is also the director of Coyotehunter.net and the Coyote Hunter Tournament Series. The tournaments award prizes (most often guns) to the contestant who kills the most and largest coyotes in a given time period.
Olson had planned to host the Montana Coyote Classic Nov. 8-10 in Billings – the first Coyote Hunter Tournament Series event in Montana – but canceled it, claiming a lack of registrants. He is a lead organizer for another coyote killing contest hunt scheduled for January 2013 in Dickson, North Dakota.
Both Project Coyote and Animal Welfare Institute have started an online petition targeting Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack demanding Olsen be fired and an investigation into the circumstances under which the photographs were taken as well as into other reports of animal cruelty by USDA employees.
* Representatives Issa and Cummings have yet to respond to the request and of this writing, neither Project Coyote nor AWI had received a response from Wildlife Services to their letter calling for Olson’s termination though as reported in the Missoula Independent (11.5.12) “Krischke, the director of Wyoming Wildlife Services, said on Nov. 5 that Olson is under investigation. He declined to comment further.”