Last fall, a series of sickening photos creeped out of the world of social media. They'd been taken by Jamie Olson, a Wyoming-based federal wildlife specialist with Wildlife Services, and posted to Facebook and Twitter. They showed his dogs taunting coyotes caught in leg-hold traps that Olson himself had set. The images caused a nationwide uproar, and prompted Olson to admit to the Indy that he'd made a "big-ass mistake" in posting them.
Since the revelation about Olson's activities, more stories have come to light involving the dubious predator-control methods employed by other Wildlife Services personnel. But Olson isn't the only fed betraying backward priorities. The Department of Homeland Security appears more concerned with the reaction from animal rights activists than with the disturbing behavior of federal employees.
Not long after the stories of alleged animal abuse broke, a nonprofit called Project Coyote launched a petition on Change.org calling for Olson's firing. WildEarth Guardians signed on, as did the Animal Welfare Institute. Signatures poured in, reaching 40,000 in a few short weeks. Four members of Congress wrote to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform demanding a "full and thorough investigation of Wildlife Services."
The response from DHS? A counter-terrorism bulletin dated shortly after Project Coyote launched its petition, warning law enforcement agencies to "be aware of the potential for increased threats and interference by animal rights activists" to Wildlife Services and other agencies dealing in wildlife issues.
One of the news stories that brought much of this to light, a three-part series by the Sacramento Bee, found that Wildlife Services employees have killed nearly a million coyotes since 2000, along with millions of other animals including black bears, river otters, porcupines and even bald eagles. The same article stated that "on average, eight dogs a month have been killed by mistake by Wildlife Services since 2000," and that more than a dozen employees and civilians have been injured by cyanide cartridges meant to kill wildlife over the past two decades. Olson's photos were just the tip of the iceberg.
With these transgressions in mind, it seems deplorable that DHS should target those seeking action on a widespread and well-documented problem. Perhaps it's time the federal government began looking a little more in the mirror and less at those simply seeking to protect wildlife, pets and people.