Trapped coyote photos have lawmakers questioning Wildlife Services' "culture"

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In early November, Jamie Olson, a federal Wildlife Services employee in Wyoming, told the Indy he made a “big-ass mistake” in posting several photos of live coyotes caught in leg-hold traps on Facebook and Twitter. Those photos, some of which appeared to show Olson’s dogs tormenting the trapped coyotes, outraged animal-rights groups and triggered an investigation.

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Now it’s looking like an even bigger mistake.

The uproar has reached Washington, D.C., with U.S. Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for a broader investigation—“a thorough audit of Wildlife Services, especially its lethal predator control program, by the USDA Office of Inspector General regarding the culture within Wildlife Services.”

While coyotes in Wyoming are classified as a predator and can be legally hunted and trapped year-round without a license, Campbell and DeFazio wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Vilsack (PDF) that Olson, who insisted the photos were taken on his personal time, “apparently committed acts of animal cruelty” that appear to violate federal directives and state law.

Campbell and DeFazio went on to say that if Olson is found to have committed such cruelty, it would bring “disrepute” to Wildlife Services and the federal government at a time when the agency “labors under heavy criticism for unnecessarily killing wild animals and lacking transparency and accountability.” The congressmen said they’re “gravely concerned” that the photos “reflect a deep-rooted problem” within the agency.

The investigation of Olson is being conducted by the Administrative, Investigations and Compliance Branch of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “It’s still considered to be an ongoing review,” Wildlife Services spokesperson Carol Bannerman said on Dec. 14.

As for the larger investigation Campbell and DeFazio are asking for, Bannerman could only say, “We’ve received the letter and an answer is being prepared and will be sent to the congressmen.”

Meanwhile, more than 45,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Vilsack to fire Olson.

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