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Monday, February 04, 2013

Federal Trapper Arrested for Animal Cruelty

The USDA’s Wildlife Services program—established more than 80 years ago with the passage of the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931—wastes millions of taxpayer dollars recklessly killing animals with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, aerial gunning, and other hideous lethal methods every year. Several former USDA-Wildlife Services employees and whistleblowers have described the agency’s deeply rooted culture of disregard for animals, and for these reasons, have long suspected that some federal trappers may be committing crimes against animals while performing work-related duties. They’ve never been caught in the act, until now.


Last week, we learned that authorities in El Mirage, Ariz., arrested USDA-Wildlife Services trapper Russell Files on charges of cruelty to animals after he admitted to intentionally setting traps to capture a neighbor’s two-year old Australian cattle dog named Zoey. Authorities found Zoey struggling to free her paws in two steel-jawed leghold traps when they arrived on Files’ property after receiving a 911 call from a good Samaritan.

“I was pretty shocked,” said El Mirage Police Department detective Kim Walden in an article reported by Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee, who has penned a series of investigative reports on Wildlife Services. “There are different kinds of animal abuse. This kind, because I have not seen trapping and what it does to an animal, ranks up there with one of the worst I’ve seen.”

When officers arrived on the scene, they found Zoey covered in blood and in desperate need of medical attention. The veterinarian who treated Zoey claimed that she lost 17 teeth trying to chew her way out of the traps and suffered severe injuries to her mouth and jaw. As a result, the dog will have to undergo extensive surgery and dental work in order to eat normally again. 

If the allegations are true, Mr. Files acted with malice and intended to inflict unnecessary suffering on his neighbor’s dog, and all at federal taxpayers’ expense since he admitted to investigators that he was on duty when he set the traps that injured Zoey. This extraordinarily reckless and callous act is indefensible and must not go unpunished, but what’s more concerning is that this is the second time in less than six months that a USDA-Wildlife Services trapper has been caught up in controversy around the treatment of animals. 

In October 2012, authorities discovered photos taken by USDA-Wildlife Services trapper Jamie Paul Olson which appears to show Olson’s dogs attacking and killing a coyote restrained in a steel-jawed leghold trap set by Olson as part of a taxpayer-funded predator control operation in Wyoming. The photos posted on Mr. Olson’s Facebook page appear to show a frightened coyote screaming and fighting desperately to escape from a trap while Olson’s dogs ripped and pulled the defenseless animal’s body apart from limb to limb. If these allegations are true, then Mr. Olson intentionally subjected this coyote to a long, excruciating, and terrifying death for his own personal amusement—and all on the government dime.

USDA officials are still investigating the Olson incident and have already promised to investigate this most recent incident involving Russell Files. But clearly, more needs to be done to turn around the culture of this outdated program, and they shouldn’t wait until these investigations have been completed to do so. It’s time for a top-to-bottom assessment of the Wildlife Services program and some immediate policy changes that will prevent these types of incidents from ever occurring in the first place. USDA should audit Wildlife Services, especially its lethal predator control program and take a hard look within the agency at the culture and use of inhumane lethal methods for predator control. It’s time for the agency to shift the focus of its resources to nonlethal alternatives and it should start by phasing out the use of two highly toxic and indiscriminate predator poisons: compound 1080 and sodium cyanide. 

U.S. Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have sent a letter to USDA requesting that the Office of Inspector General audit Wildlife Services. As Rep. Campbell told the Sacramento Bee after the latest incident, “We continue to see more and more acts of cruelty coming from this clearly out-of-control, mismanaged and misdirected department.” It’s time for a change.


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