The Trump administration has reauthorized use of sodium cyanide in wildlife-killing devices called M-44s. These “cyanide bombs” received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency despite inhumanely and indiscriminately killing thousands of animals every year. They have also injured people
The EPA allows use of the devices by Wildlife Services, the animal-killing program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EPA also authorizes M-44 use by state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas.
Earlier this year, the EPA issued a proposed interim decision renewing sodium cyanide registration and opened a public comment period. More than 99.9 percent of comments urged the EPA to ban M-44s, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Environmental Law Center.
In response to concerns raised by wildlife advocacy groups and others, EPA added some restrictions. For example, the devices cannot be placed within 100 feet of a public road or pathway, increased from 50 feet. Elevated warning signs must be placed within 15 feet of each device, decreased from 25 feet. And people living within a half-mile of an M-44 placement must be notified.
None of the restrictions will prevent killing of nontarget wildlife, however.
“While it is encouraging that the EPA is taking at least some minimal action to protect the public from deadly M-44s, updating a few use restrictions –– nearly impossible to enforce and commonly ignored –– fails to meaningfully address the problem,” said Kelly Nokes, Shared Earth wildlife attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “EPA is blatantly ignoring its fundamental duty to protect the public, our pets, and native wildlife from the cruel, lethal impacts of cyanide bombs lurking on our public lands. We will continue to hold our federal government accountable to the law, and will continue our fight for a ban on M-44s once and for all.”
“Cyanide traps can’t be used safely by anyone, anywhere,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While the EPA added some restrictions, these deadly devices have caused too much harm to remain in use. We need a permanent nationwide ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison.”
“Tightening up use restrictions is turning a blind eye to the reality of M-44s,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “In my 25 years working with M-44 victims I’ve learned that Wildlife Services’ agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions. And warning signs will not prevent more dogs, wild animals and potentially children from being killed. They cannot read them. M-44s are a safety menace and must be banned.”
“We are deeply disappointed in EPA’s decision to allow for the continued use of M-44s and the agency’s willingness to ignore glaring threats to the health and safety of people, wildlife and ecosystems across the U.S.,” said Carson Barylak, campaigns manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “This decision is inconsistent with EPA’s mission and the intent of our pesticide laws, and it all but ensures that tragic encounters with these deadly devices will continue.”
“We raised serious concerns that were enough to invoke a response from the EPA–that response was totally inadequate,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “These bombs will continue to indiscriminately kill native wildlife and threaten people and pets until their use is discontinued entirely.”
“Since the 1970s, M-44 devices have killed over 10,000 non-target animals, including dogs, bald eagles, marmots, hawks, black bears, wolves, mountain lions and bobcats,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Animals who are victims of these devices suffer horribly prior to death. The additional use restrictions that EPA has proposed will do nothing to reduce the number of animals that are unintentionally killed by these devices.”
According to Wildlife Services’ own data, M-44s killed 6,579 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes, in 2018, down from 13,232 animals in 2017. Of these, more than 200 deaths were nontarget animals, including foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks and a bear. These numbers probably significantly under-estimate the true death toll since Wildlife Services is notorious for poor data collection and an entrenched “shoot, shovel, shut up” mentality.
The devices spray deadly sodium cyanide into the mouths of unsuspecting coyotes, foxes and other carnivores lured by smelly bait. Anything or anyone that pulls on the baited M-44 device can be killed or severely injured by the deadly spray.
In response to a 2017 lawsuit brought by the Center and its allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to analyze impacts of M-44s on endangered wildlife by the end of 2021. Another 2017 lawsuit by wildlife advocates prompted Wildlife Services in Colorado to temporarily halt the use of M-44s while it completes a new environmental analysis on its wildlife-killing program.
Last year, EPA denied a 2017 petition authored by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians that asked for a nationwide ban on M-44s.
M-44s temporarily blinded a child and killed three family dogs in two incidents in Idaho and Wyoming in 2017. A wolf was also accidentally killed by an M-44 set in Oregon that year. In response, Idaho instituted an ongoing moratorium on M-44 use on public lands, and Oregon this year passed legislation banning them in the state.