A Northeast Oregon wolf died after it bit a spring-loaded cyanide powder trap set by USDA Wildlife Services in an apparent violation of an informal agreement it had with state officials not to use the devices in areas frequented by wolves.
OR-48, a 100-pound male from the Shamrock Pack, died Feb. 26 after it bit an M-44 device, which fires cyanide powder into a predator’s mouth when it tugs on a baited or scented capsule holder. Wildlife Services set the trap on private land in an attempt to kill coyotes. The federal agency kills predators or other wildlife that damage or pose a threat to property, livestock or humans. The agency’s website describes the M-44 as an “effective and environmentally sound wildlife damage management tool.”
It’s primarily used to kill coyotes, wild dogs and foxes. The agency’s website said animals that trigger the device fall unconscious and die within one to five minutes. Sodium cyanide powder in the capsule reacts with saliva in the animal’s mouth, producing deadly hydrogen cyanide gas.
Predator Defense, a nonprofit wildlife activist group based in Eugene, has repeatedly called for M-44s to be banned. Executive Director Brooks Fahey said the devices are “notoriously dangerous,” indiscriminately kill canids, including dogs, and pose a threat to children or others who might run across them.
Use of M-44s was prohibited in areas of known wolf activity when wolves were listed as endangered under Oregon law. After wolves were taken off the state endangered species list in 2015, U.S. Wildlife Services said it would continue to avoid using M-44s, ODFW spokesman Rick Hargrave said.
He said Wildlife Services held an Incidental Take Permit that allowed it to conduct wildlife control operations in protected wolf areas but prohibited M-44s. The Incidental Take Permit expired when wolves were de-listed, but Wildlife Services indicated it would continue following the permit rules, Hargrave said.
“We discussed our concerns specifically regarding M-44s,” he said. “We didn’t want those devices in those areas.”
“We believed it was clear what our concerns were,” Hargrave said.
In a prepared statement, ODFW Wildlife Division Administrator Doug Cottam said the wolf’s death shows the risk involved when Wildlife Services conducts such operations.
“This is a situation we take seriously and we’ll be working with Wildlife Services with the goal of preventing it from happening again” Cottam said in the statement released by ODFW.
Also in a prepared statement, Dave Williams, state director for Wildlife Services in Oregon, said the agency has begun an internal review to “see if any changes to our procedures are necessary.”
Fahey, the Predator Defense executive director, was harshly critical of USDA Wildlife Services and its tactics in the West. His group produced a film, “Exposed: America’s Secret War on Wildlife,” in which critics say Wildlife Services indiscriminately and carelessly kills wildlife. Fahey alleges Wildlife Services routinely does not follow safety guidelines when placing them, even when killing coyotes near residential areas.
For example, Fahey alleged Wildlife Services does not put up required warning signs when placing M-44s because the agency doesn’t want the public to notice them and fiddle with them out of curiosity. Wildlife Services also is worried animal rights or wildlife activists might try to remove the devices, Fahey said.
“I don’t think the public really understand how these things are all over the West,” he said. “I find it mind-boggling after the history of these devices that we haven’t banned them completely.”
Fahey said Oregon 4th District congressional Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Eugene, has prepared legislation that would ban M-44s. Fahey acknowledged such legislation faces an uncertain reception, given the political division over the Trump administration.
“No doubt it’s a real tough atmosphere,” he said. But he said some ranchers have lost stock or guard dogs to M-44s and favor banning the devices.
“It’s still early in this administration,” Fahey said.
OR-48, the wolf that died, was believed to be almost two years old. Hargrave, the ODFW spokesman, said OR-48 was not the Shamrock Pack’s breeding male, and may have been dispersing from the pack and establishing its own territory, as young adults do. The incident site was on the edge of the Shamrock Pack’s territory Wallowa County.
OR-48 had been captured and fitted with a tracking collar Feb. 10, according to ODFW. The wolf was collared within the Shamrock Pack’s “Area of Known Wolf Activity,” or AKWA, while with other pack members. In an email, Hargrave said the work was done as “part of normal collaring activities” and not because OR-48 appeared ready to disperse and might wander into the Wildlife Services operation.
“The local biologist does work with the local Wildlife Services agent to inform them of where a collared wolf has been, but there is no way to predict where the collared wolf will go,” Hargrave said.
Link to Predator Defense film: http://predatordefense.org/exposed/index.htm