TRAPPED! In the shadows of wildlife management

By on March 12, 2013

PART 1:

First in a two-part series. Next week, find out what Wildlife Services’ investigation turned up and learn more about Wyoming’s obsession with hating the coyote.

Caught!

Late last year, Wyoming trapper Jamie Olson, from Douglas, posted pictures on Facebook of his trained Airedales attacking a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap. One sequence of photos shows his dogs biting a defenseless coyote; later pictures show a disemboweled coyote scattered on the ground. The caption read: “My Airedale, Bear, with a sheep-killing female.”

Photo cutline: Photos of Jamie Olson’s dogs attacking two different coyotes caught in leg-hold traps. Olson posted them on his Facebook page until several wildlife advocates expressed their outrage. He has since deactivated his account. Photo credit: Jamie Olson Facebook

Photo cutline: Photos of Jamie Olson’s dogs attacking two different coyotes caught in leg-hold traps. Olson posted them on his Facebook page until several wildlife advocates expressed their outrage. He has since deactivated his account.
Photo credit: Jamie Olson Facebook

Photo cutline: Photos of Jamie Olson’s dogs attacking two different coyotes caught in leg-hold traps. Olson posted them on his Facebook page until several wildlife advocates expressed their outrage. He has since deactivated his account. Photo credit: Jamie Olson Facebook

Photo cutline: Photos of Jamie Olson’s dogs attacking two different coyotes caught in leg-hold traps. Olson posted them on his Facebook page until several wildlife advocates expressed their outrage. He has since deactivated his account.
Photo credit: Jamie Olson Facebook

Several animal-welfare advocates got a hold of Olson’s photos and began spreading them on the Internet. Olson deactivated his Facebook account but it was too late. The pictures and story went viral last November. Wildlife activists demanded Olson explain why he was using his dogs to finish off trapped coyotes. Olson admitted to one reporter that he had made a “big-ass mistake.” He claimed the photos were taken out of context. His bosses began an investigation that is still ongoing today.

The photos appeared in an album Olson entitled “work.” Olson is employed by an obscure federal agency called Wildlife Services, a division of APHIS under the USDA, where he pulls down mid-30s for an annual wage. His official job title is “Biological Science Technician.” He is, in reality, a professional coyote killer.

When he’s not killing coyotes for a paycheck, Olson runs a website devoted to advising other hunters and trappers on how to whack ’em and stack ’em. “We’re all in this coyote obsession together,” Olson states on his website. Olson also organizes regional coyote hunting tournaments, where sharpshooters pay a fee to gun down coyotes for a chance to win the pot for “putting up the most fur.”

Olson’s photos sparked immediate outrage throughout the wildlife-advocate community and raised several questions. What is Wildlife Services and what does anyone know about the secretive agency? And more importantly, can trapping be done humanely and do citizens of the modern West have the stomach for it?

Trapping 101

It can take days for a coyote or wolf to die in a neck snare. Wolves, particularly, have developed thick musculature to protect their trachea and common carotid arteries so they often do not die of suffocation and do not die quickly. Cause of death in most neck snare traps is “exploded brain.”

Trappers call them “jelly heads.” The choke snare constricts the jugular vein on the outside of the neck, cutting off blood returning to the heart; meanwhile, the carotid artery keeps pumping blood into the brain, causing it to swell in size and eventually rupture. According to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife scientist Wally Jakubas, about a third of the 94 snared coyotes he checked one season died this way. IF&W also reported 70 percent of coyotes caught in neck snares took three days to die.

“I think it is also safe to say that this is an unpleasant death,” Jakubas wrote in his report. “Anyone who has had a migraine knows what it feels like to have swollen blood vessels in the head. To have blood vessels burst because of pressure must be excruciating.”

Longtime Maine trapper Bill Randall said the sight of an animal that died in a neck snare was the goriest visual display of animal cruelty he had ever seen.

Many hardcore trappers won’t use neck snares. They catch too many non-targeted animals including deer, federally protected eagles, and people’s dogs. Leg-hold traps are the most common in Wyoming. Steel-jawed holds with teeth are still used by many trappers, though most are going with padded leg-holds – a move precipitated more by greed than grace.

Padded jaws with the proper offset “allow blood to flow around the paw so that the foot has feeling and does not go dead,” said Clint Locklear, a respected trapper and owner of Predator Control Group. Once a coyote loses feeling in his foot and lower leg, it will often chew off its own limb to free itself. Trappers hate seeing nothing but a bloody paw in their trap.

Quick-kill body traps or conibears are also used extensively throughout Wyoming and the West. They are predominantly set for beaver, which are usually killed quickly. Conibear traps are often lethal for dogs as well, as most owners lack the knowledge or strength to free their pet before it suffocates.

By-catch: the unintended by-product of trapping

After struggling in vain to free his dog caught in a #220 conibear, Doug Snyder couldn’t stand to see his 9-year-old Lab suffer any longer. He shot her. “Polka Dot” was one of at least six dogs killed in traps last fall in Minnesota. In December, John Reynolds, a trapper himself, was setting a fox trap when his companion dog, a 50-pound springer spaniel, wandered away and was nearly cut in two by a conibear. He started a petition to outlaw body-gripping traps on public land in Minnesota.

Photo cutline: Domestic dogs are often drawn to baited traps. Body-grabbers, like this conibear, are especially lethal. Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians

Photo cutline: Domestic dogs are often drawn to baited traps. Body-grabbers, like this conibear, are especially lethal.
Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians

The biggest complaint from anti-trappers and trappers alike is the unintended victim. Non-targeted catches are par for the course and go vastly underreported.

“I’ve never used snares at all because they are very nonselective. They catch everything that will go through them. Snares are very dangerous,” said Carter Niemeyer. The experienced trapper and author of “Wolfer” was one of the experts who helped reintroduce the grey wolf to the Lower 48 and later became one of the feds top “hit men” in trying to control their predacious behavior toward livestock. “And with a higher number of people using public lands, well, if trapping and snaring on public lands remains legal then these are the conditions you will be living with now: Keep your dog on a short leash and stay in the middle of the trail. Because a dog is going to take you right to a trap.”

Last fall, Red Top Meadows resident Linnea Gardner lost sight of her husky-shepherd mix briefly at the Rock Creek trailhead. When she followed his tracks she saw him standing perfectly still and staring at her. She called. He didn’t move. Gardner approached the dog and then she saw the cable around its neck. It was so tight the dog could not bark.

Gardner freed her dog and soon after ran into the coyote trapper that had set the snare. He was polite and agreed to remove that and two other traps he had placed in the area after Gardner, a 12-year resident of the area, informed him the trail was quite popular with hikers and their dogs. The trap was baited with meat and less than 15 feet off the trail. It was perfectly legal.

Gardner advises other dog owners to beware. “They could be anywhere out there,” she said. “Get yourself a pair of wire cutters.”

Actually, tampering with or removing a trap (which, by law must be identified with the trapper’s name and address) is illegal.

Pelt prices are on the upswing. And favorable conditions in the fur trade means recreational trapping is on the rise during a sluggish economy. The backcountry is also seeing increased use from hikers, bikers and backpackers. In Teton County, there is almost nowhere to set a trap in an area remote enough to ensure people or pets would not stumble upon it.

Randall, who trapped in Maine through the 1970s and ’80s, remembers his last days of trapping. He eventually quit when it became evident that he was more likely to catch a pet than a pelt. In his final season, he caught 28 house cats and several dogs. He was able to save the dogs but, on the advice of the local game warden, he destroyed the cats and never told anyone about it.

Wildlife News reported two cougars, a bobcat and a coyote were found in traps set for wolves just one month into the most recent wolf-trapping season in Montana. By comparison, seven wolves were reported trapped.

Even Wildlife Services, the agency that kills five million animals every year in the name of “managing” wildlife, admitted to some trapping mistakes. According to their own record keeping, WS has killed more than 50,000 non-targeted animals in traps since 2000, representing 150 species including some endangered, and 1,100 domestic dogs.

Birds of prey are also a common unintended catch. It’s widely assumed a great majority of bald and golden eagles caught in traps are never reported.

“We’ve seen eagles trapped in both leg-holds and snares,” said Bryan Bedrosian of Craighead Beringia South in Kelly, Wyo. “Anytime there is visual bait that is a potential food source you are going to attract eagles, especially in late winter as their diet shifts to carrion. We’ve seen several eagles with one leg that I would attribute to leg traps. One bird we had tagged with satellite got caught in the snare in Montana. The trapper actually reported it, probably because he saw the transmitter.”

Bedrosian suggests trappers set traps in areas where eagles can’t land and use only scent as an attractant because eagles rely exclusively on visual stimulus when searching for food.

Coup de grace

Many ethical trappers deal a quick and merciful deathblow to animals suffering in their traps. Too many do not.

“Gunshot is the quickest way to dispatch them,” Niemeyer said. “With wolves, when they were listed, we injected them with an immobilizing drug and had them removed to a vet where they were euthanized. It was a touchier subject back then. Once rules were lessened they were dispatched with a gunshot or we rapped them on the bridge of the nose.”

To keep the pelt from damage or bloodstains, many trappers will not shoot a coyote, wolf or fox. Some use catch poles similar to what animal control officers use to strangle a coyote to death. Others use a lead pipe to deliver a crushing blow to the larynx. For smaller coyotes and foxes, many trappers simply stomp on or press their knee into the animal’s chest to crush the heart and lungs.

(WARNING! Graphic footage may not be suitable for some.)

As brutal as these methods are, using trained dogs to attack and kill a coyote caught in a leg-hold trap strikes most civilized members of the general public as repulsive.

“That episode is totally amoral, unprofessional and inhumane,” Franz Camenzind said, referring to the Olson photographs. Camenzind is a wildlife biologist who has done extensive research on coyotes and wolves. “It shows an unbelievable amount of disrespect for his job, his profession and life in general.”

Former Wildlife Services trapper Gary Strader said the photos did not surprise him. He said animal abuse is very common inside the agency and claims he and others were regularly told to shut up about what they did in the field. He was fired in 2009.

Niemeyer, who also worked for Wildlife Services, said he was bothered by what he saw in Olson’s photographs. “I would say it is not normal. In my 26 years, I never witnessed anyone sic their dog on a coyote.”

Trappers often defend the use of trained dogs as a means to protect themselves from injured coyotes that could turn ferocious, or help track down wounded animals that slip away. Camenzind doesn’t buy that logic.

“I trapped 24 coyotes for research,” Camenzind said. “I went up to them to ear tag them carrying a choke pole which I really didn’t need. When approaching, from 10 or 20 yards out, the coyote is jumping and snapping and snarling. But when you get closer, say 10 feet, they start cowering and curl up in submissive behavior and won’t even look you in the eye. The vast majority you could push over with a stick. When people say how vicious they are I’m gonna call ‘bullshit’ on them.”

Photo cutline: Carter Niemeyer once worked for Wildlife Services. He says the agency needs to be reformed. Photo credit: Jenny Niemeyer

Photo cutline: Carter Niemeyer once worked for Wildlife Services. He says the agency needs to be reformed.
Photo credit: Jenny Niemeyer

Time for a change?

In Wyoming, trap locations do not have to be signed in any way and often aren’t. Many trappers are reluctant to tip off possible poachers or an intolerant public. By law, trappers are required to visually check leg-hold traps every 72 hours. Body-grips and strangle snares need to be checked once a week and, depending on what day of the week the trap was set, could go 13 days between checks. When asked if any animal would survive that long stuck in a neck snare, Wyoming Game & Fish division supervisor Tim Fuchs said, “not very likely.”

Camenzind and Niemeyer recommend posted signs and 24-hour checks for all traps.

“The public is entitled to have some kind of signing,” Niemeyer said. “And eventually we will get to a 24-hour trap check. Western states will fight that tooth-and-nail. But the stress and lack of water can do irreparable harm in 72 hours. Common sense will lead society to a 24-hour trap check, eventually. A lot of states have gone there already.”

Fuchs said trapping rules are reviewed every three years. They are not due for public comment again until 2016. He advised concerned Wyoming citizens to write their state representatives if they want state statutes changed, or contact his office if there is a strong desire to see stricter regulation or a ban on trapping altogether in certain heavily trafficked areas.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a wedding DJ. He also blabs on the radio at 103.7 FM The Range weekday mornings. He does other things besides write. In fact, it is probably readily apparent that journalism is not his forte. He already knows this so when blogging things like: "8th grade writing level" and "immature reporting" these are not considered insults. In some cases, they read like encouragement.

23 Comments

  1. Travis Butler

    March 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Never mind updating trapping regulations. Ban the damn things forever. Let them find jobs like other people must. Killing these animals in such a barbaric way so they can send furs to China and Russia? Yes, that is what they do. This is an assault on U.S. wildlife and is absolutely indefensible. Enough!!!

  2. meadow

    March 12, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    We don’t update regulations on animal fighting or child pornography to make these heinous pastimes ‘better’. Some things are just wrong and should end. Trapping should be illegal.

  3. JeanR.

    March 13, 2013 at 4:39 am

    I am amazed at how many people involved with Wildlife management, in one form or another, have an absolute disregard for wildlife.

    • Eva O'Brien

      March 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      I am also amazed that people who are to protect do the opposite.

    • MikeK

      March 29, 2013 at 8:29 am

      And then there’s the group of managers that you can thank for seeing elk, deer, bison, and bears all throughout he Jackson area.

  4. William huard

    March 13, 2013 at 4:43 am

    Wildlife services is an arm of the livestock industry…what frustrates me the most is the arrogance and lack of any accountability with these people. These agents use my tax dollars to kill wildlife for kicks….they like it-it’s called sadism….anyone that would allow hounds to rip a defenseless animal to shreds needs psychological help….and they lie and call it ‘helping those poor misunderstood ranchers….Olson is a liar….Sheep killing female MY A@&….the end justifies the means…..why does the fed gov allow an employee to sponsor coyote killing contests for ‘entertainment’

  5. Bill

    March 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    ” … a respected trapper … ”
    That is a lot like “a respected mass murderer.” As civilization advances, trapping will fall into worse disgrace than it already suffers and completely disappear. Of course, civilization may not advance and humans may completely disappear. We are a bad species for this planet, and the planet may shuck us off like the parasites we are.

  6. Eunice

    March 14, 2013 at 1:01 am

    How about we just let them control the rodent population. Why is man so greedy? These images sicken me. Before humans had weapons everything was balanced cuz that’s how mother Earth has intended things to be. So leave these beings alone and let nature be. No more hunting!!!

  7. anonn

    March 14, 2013 at 7:15 am

    :( Trappers give hunters a bad name.

    • William huard

      March 14, 2013 at 8:24 am

      Hunters give hunters a bad name…they killed all the ‘collared’ Yellowstone wolves ‘legally’ (all laugh here) and now coyote calling (coyote persecution) is being framed as predator control and that it is an art to stack dead coyotes in piles…

      • Mark

        March 29, 2013 at 8:37 am

        Some hunters don’t kill predators believe it or not. The bad hunters make headlines while the good ones fill their freezers every year without the need to post gruesome pictures online. All too often the good ones get lumped into the slob hunter category. I don’t hunt but I know the good hunters vastly outnumber the bad ones.

  8. ann smith

    March 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Outrageous that my tax dollars are used to kill and maim our native wildlife! These men are cowards who get their kicks from watching helpless animals suffer. They should use the money for therapy to see what is making them behave in such a barbaric manner!

  9. Vickie Jay

    March 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Sportmanship? humane? empathy? simple co…mmon sense please

  10. Vickie Jay

    March 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Help please

  11. lisa robertson

    March 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I was delighted to see Jake’s Part 1 of the Trapping series. This is an issue that Wyoming has needed to cover for many years,,,and now we have taken that first step, with public awareness, and the horrors of trapping in the state…which has gone mostly hidden and unchallenged until the last few months. 72 hour trap checks, choke-snares, killer conibear traps, unlimited trap sizes, shoot on sight in over 85% of the state every day of the year, chasing with snowmobiles, and more…it’s unbelievable that we have turned a blind eye for so long. Thank you so very much for this excellent investigative reporting.
    There will be a pet trap-release workshop Tuesday June 4 at the Old Wilson School, spearheaded by Wyoming Wolves Untrapped (Facebook) sponsored by PAWS, COUGAR FUND, and Spring Creek Animal Hospital and the National Humane Society. It’s time that we learn how to protect ourselves and our pets on our public trails, and even on private property.

    Looking forward to Part 2 of the story next week. Thanks Jake Nichols for raising our awareness!

  12. Ziggy Pope

    March 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

    The USDA is owned by American Farm Bureau, Cattleman’s Association and the Koch Brother funded ALEC and the ironically named Sportsmen Club. All of these groups are behind all the AG GAG bills that have been passed and looking to be passed, despite most farmers are against them. These same groups are behind slaughtering the wild horses and burros, and starting up horse slaughter houses here in the US.

    The more blood and pain and suffering these people can inflict upon their “un-chosen” animals, the more they like it. The have no bounds for their ability to be cruel, and inhumane. The amount of corruption at the USDA to do these groups bidding, and corporate industrial farming bidding is despicable.

    All the anti animal abuse groups; wolves, bear, bison, horses, farm animals, (dairy, beef, pork, and fowl) need to form one large group, or all get on the same email lists, because the louder the better and larger the group the better.

    We all need to be scouring what bills and actions are going on at state and federal levels. The groups above are insidious and vile and they hate it we are speaking up.

    FWIW

  13. Mark J. Dinkel

    March 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I agree that it is long past time to outlaw the trapping of animals.

  14. Roger Hayden

    March 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Excellent, well researched article by Jake Nichols. I’m looking forward to part 2, to be published on March 20.
    Few people are aware that widespread trapping still exists. With the delisting of wolves, we’re likely to see even more. Every year, thousands of animals not targeted, including endangered species, are caught and suffer in traps, as Jake notes. Of course, this also includes dogs, many right here in Jackson Hole.
    Wyoming Wolves Untrapped has organized a trap-release workshop, scheduled for June 4 at the Old Wilson Schoolhouse. Trapping expert and animal rescuer Dave Pauli of the Humane Society of the United States will conduct the workshop. For more information on the workshop and other trapping issues, visit WWU at their Facebook Page.
    Trapping is cruel and unnecessary, and ultimately should be banned.

  15. John

    March 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I know it’s hard for you people to get it through your thick skulls. But these animals are being killed humanly(believe it or not). These animals are dead in about 30 seconds apposed to months of starving or disease. These animals are overpopulated and that’s why they are harvested. Grow up and relise that this needs to be done.

  16. Matt Byrnes

    May 3, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Trappers are all different
    Trapping animals is my right and the rest of u can stick it

  17. cara16

    May 9, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    It is not right that these “men” seem to enjoy brutally killing something as much as they seem to? They must be very troubled individuals.

  18. Cara Eg

    May 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I had no idea this goes on! I always donate to the wildlife fund! Am I funding these people?! Wildlife needs to be protected not slaughtered. BAN TRAPPING and hunting … all of it.

  19. Eric D.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I see a great deal of comments on here talking about no hunting! No trapping! Ban it all. Those comments are ignorant and against my right to live and eat as I choose. I am sorry to say this, but it is obvious that education does not mean intelligence.

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