CASPER, Wyo. — Facebook photos of ensnared, snarling coyotes ruffled feathers throughout the nation's environmental community last month, prompting an agency investigation into an employee still working for the Casper-based Wyoming Wildlife Services.
Jamie Olson posted photos of dogs barking at, pouncing on and biting coyotes and other predators trapped in steel leg snares — some predators visibly alive and others possibly dead — to a personal Facebook page, in an album allegedly titled "work."
Someone unaffiliated with Wildlife Services sent Olson's photos to the agency on Oct. 30, asking what the agency knew about them, according to national Wildlife Services spokeswoman Carol Bannerman.
The investigation was launched that day and is ongoing, Bannerman said Thursday. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service — a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture and the agency that oversees Wildlife Services — is conducting the investigation, according to Bannerman.
Wyoming Wildlife Services State Director Rod Krischke said the agency "does not condone any inhumane treatment of animals."
"The investigation is warranted," Krischke said. "We want to make sure we know what's going on there and that we're doing things right."
Questions of whether Olson took the photos on the job or off the clock, in Wyoming or out of state — and whether the actions depicted even constitute what Wildlife Services would consider inhumane treatment — are yet to be determined by the investigation, according to Krischke.
"We as an agency expect our staff to uphold certain standards because we do this sort of work with a public resource," Bannerman said, adding that coyotes are no exception to Wildlife Services' code of ethics. All Wildlife Services rules apply to coyote trapping, Bannerman said. According to an agency manual, hunting dogs must be controllable at all times and employees must demonstrate "exceptionally high levels of respect for people, property and wildlife."
Olson, whose job is federally funded, could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with the Missoula Independent, Olson called his decision to post the images a "big-ass mistake" and said the photos were "personal pictures taken on personal time." Bannerman said she was unaware of Olson's interview with the Independent until after the Nov. 8 story was published, and that Olson has since been instructed to not speak with reporters.
The environmental community whose outcry spawned the investigation in the first place is still vocal on the issue, criticizing what they see as an inappropriate use of federal funds. To date, nearly 44,000 people have signed a Change.org digital petition urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fire Olson, and a similar petition launched Nov. 4 at Causes.com has more than 22,000 signatures.
A Nov. 1 letter from the Animal Welfare Institute and Project Coyote urged Krischke to terminate Olson's employment immediately, calling the actions depicted in Olson's photos "unacceptable for any trapper," but "particularly egregious when done by a government employee."
Because of the ongoing investigation, Bannerman and Krischke declined to comment on the context of the actions depicted in the photos; neither would say how common it is for hunting dogs to approach trapped animals when still alive. Bannerman could not confirm the number of such investigations Wildlife Services has undergone in the past year.