Earlier this month, news broke of a Wildlife Services trapper, Jamie Olson, posting photos online depicting his two dogs taunting trapped animals. The images were posted to his Facebook page under an album titled "work" and quickly began circulating the web as outraged viewers shared them.
The Sacramento Bee reports, "The Olson photos are not easy viewing. One shows the trapper's brownish-black Airedale approaching a coyote in a leg-hold trap, unable to defend itself. The coyote is snarling and trying to pull away. A caption says: "My Airedale Bear with a sheep killing female." The Facebook photos, which were viewable publicly on Tuesday [October 30], appeared in an album labeled "work." By Wednesday [October 31], the page had been removed from the Web. Olson's Twitter account had been disabled, too."Since the photos began circulating, environmental and wildlife protection groups have called for Olson to be fired from his position. A petition at Change.org is backed by Project Coyote, which states, "Such brutality and callous disregard for the welfare of animals is particularly egregious when done by a government employee in the course of his employment and must not be tolerated."
Earth Island Journal reports, "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."
This is just one example of the mentality of Wildlife Services as a whole. Earlier this year the Sacramento Bee published a three-part investigative report detailing the lax policies of the organization in reporting the capture and death of animals not intended for traps, from pet dogs to endangered golden eagles. The purpose of Wildlife Services is to protect communities and ranchers from problem animals that pose a threat; however, much of the time the organization simply focuses on killing the most animals it can, even if that means the death of non-target species.
Since 2000, its employees have killed nearly a million coyotes, mostly in the West. They have destroyed millions of birds, from nonnative starlings to migratory shorebirds, along with a colorful menagerie of more than 300 other species, including black bears, beavers, porcupines, river otters, mountain lions and wolves.
And in most cases, they have officially revealed little or no detail about where the creatures were killed, or why. But a Bee investigation has found the agency's practices to be indiscriminate, at odds with science, inhumane and sometimes illegal.
Firing the trapper behind these photos may bring a sense of justice on a small scale, but on a larger scale the entire situation brings attention to an organization in dire need of investigation and reorganization may serve a much more important purpose.
The Earth Island Journal also reports that 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," and that includes a contest scheduled for January 2013 in North Dakota.
The killing of as many coyotes as possible is proven to be a fruitless endeavor, pointlessly violent. As many researchers as well as coyote trappers can attest, coyotes are top predators and self-regulate their populations. Take out a large number of coyotes in one area and more coyotes will fill the void as those from farther away move into the now free territory and through females having larger litters thanks to the new abundance of food. However, by focusing on only problem coyotes -- as Wildlife Services is supposed to do -- the coyote populations tend to level themselves out based on the amount of food available in the area. Coyotes primarily eat fruits, rodents and small mammals, with only a few individuals going after the lambs and calves raised by ranchers. A federal report published last year shows that only a small percentage of livestock loss is due to natural predators like coyotes.
NBC states, "A report on cattle death losses released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service said nationwide, 5.5 percent of all cattle and calf losses came from predatory animals." This includes coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions and so on.
Coyotes are greatly vilified for their role in what amounts to a tiny percentage of livestock losses. In reality, they are not predators after young calves and lambs but are in fact an important part in any ecosystem by preying on mesopredators like raccoons, skunks and feral cats. That means where coyotes exist, there are healthier bird populations. They are also responsible for controlling deer populations, and lowering the occurrence of diseases spread by rodents.
Indiscriminate trapping and killing of coyotes does not solve a larger problem, and what is worse is the loss of non-target animals by the thousands and the inhumane treatment of those animals trapped, as illustrated by the photos taken by Olson. If anything, the uproar caused by his images may also push forward an investigation of Wildlife Services and their methods for handling wildlife.