Social media isn't friendly to trappers. Back in March, photos hit Facebook of a Forest Service staffer in Idaho smiling for the camera while a wolf caught in a leg-hold trap writhes in a circle of blood-soaked snow behind him. Nothing about the scene was illegal under Idaho's aggressive wolf-management laws, but animal rights activists went wild.
A new batch of cringe-inducing photos of coyotes in Wyoming caught in traps have activists enraged again. The images, which the trapper posted to Facebook and Twitter, are helping those activists convey the cruelty of predator-control laws around the Westjust weeks before Montana's first wolf-trapping season begins on Dec. 15.
The trapped coyote photos, taken by Jamie Olson, a Wyoming federal wildlife specialist and coyote hunting tournament coordinator, made the rounds on the internet last week. In response, the Animal Welfare Institute and Project Coyote wrote to the state director of Wyoming Wildlife Services, Rod Krischke, on Nov. 1 requesting an "immediate investigation" of Olson for "blatant acts of animal cruelty."
Olson, reached by phone the same day, acknowledged he made a "big-ass mistake"not in his coyote trapping practices, but in letting the photos, which he says are more than five years old, be publicly accessible on his Facebook account.
"The reality of it," Olson said, "is that those were private picturespersonal pictures taken on personal timeand most of them were before I even worked for the agency I work for, and those were not intended for public access."
Now, as a result of the photos going viral, Olson said "shit's hitting the fan and I'm having to explain things." He has since deactivated his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Krischke, the director of Wyoming Wildlife Services, said on Nov. 5 that Olson is under investigation. He declined to comment further.
While coyotes in Wyoming are classified as predators and can be legally hunted and trapped year-round without a license, the Animal Welfare Institute and Project Coyote expressed concern over Olson's actions in their letter. Specifically, they object to the use of steel-jaw leg-hold traps "given their inherent cruelty."
"We were further alarmed," the letter continued, "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."
Olson, a lifelong trapper, denied that his dogs tormented the coyotes. "I would never have my dogs chew on a coyote," he said.
"I understand their concerns," Olson said of the animals-rights groups, "and I'm sure their agenda is solely driven for their love and desire to keep animals safe. I don't begrudge anybody that. But they're really taking that stuff out of context, and it's affecting my job."
Olson claims the photos were taken out of context, "by making it look like it's all one sequence of events, and it isn't. It's terrible," he said.
In addition to his job with Wyoming Wildlife Services, Olson is also the director of Coyotehunter.net and the Coyote Hunter Tournament Series. The tournaments involve contestants bagging as many coyotes as they can in a given time period. The contests, Olson said, don't allow trapping, only calling. He referred to the events as a "real ethical, fair-chase sort of situation." The most recent tournament, the Luke Oyloe Memorial Coyote Hunt, held in Williston, N.D., on Oct. 27, raised about $20,000 for a scholarship fund, Olson said.
Olson had planned to host the Montana Coyote Classic Nov. 8-10 in Billingsthe first Coyote Hunter Tournament Series event in Montanabut decided to cancel it for lack of registrants. He tried to advertise the event, but, "with the elections going on," he said last week, "I can't buy any radio time. I can't buy a single 30-second spot. Not one."More photos here