Activists file suit against Wildlife Services use of cyanide ‘bombs’

Four activist groups have asked a federal judge to halt the use of M-44 cyanide “bombs” and poison-filled Compound 1080 livestock collars devices used by USDA Wildlife Services to kill predators.

A lawsuit filed April 4 calls the devices “dangerous and outdated tools” that threaten wildlife ranging from coyotes, usually the intended target, to wolves, bears and eagles.

The lawsuit follows a February incident in which a protected gray wolf was killed in Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County after it bit or tugged on an M-44 device set by USDA Wildlife Services to kill coyotes on private land. Soon after, a 14-year-old Pocatello, Idaho, boy was slightly injured and his dog killed when they came upon an M-44 device set near a housing development. Also, two dogs were reported killed in Wyoming, although Wildlife Services said it did not set a device in the area where it happened.

In the Oregon case, Wildlife Services agreed to remove M-44s from regions officially designated as Areas of Known Wolf Activity by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont., alleges the federal government never completed a review of the poison devices and asks that their use be halted until that is done. It demands that all sodium cyanide and Compound 1080 devices be removed within 30 days of a judge’s order.

Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration’s new secretary of the Interior, and Jim Kurth, acting director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, are named as defendants, as is USFWS. The federal agencies have mixed roles: the EPA and USFWS consult on the use of the poisons, while USDA’s Wildlife Services is a registered user. The lawsuit alleges the government has not completed a review of the poisons that was begun in 2011.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals.

In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for WildEarth Guardians said the recent poisonings “prove current restrictions are failing to ensure people, domestic animals and imperiled wildlife are not at risk” from the devices.

M-44s are spring-loaded devices that eject cyanide powder when an animal pulls on a scented tag. The powder interacts with saliva or other moisture to form a lethal hydrogen cyanide gas, killing the animal within one to five minutes, according to Wildlife Services. They typically are used to kill coyotes, the intended target in the Oregon case. Critics refer to M-44s as cyanide “bombs.”

Compound 1080 is a liquid poison loaded into livestock protection collars placed on the necks of sheep and goats. An attacking coyote or other predator punctures the collar, releasing the poison and killing the attacking animal.

The activist groups maintain that non-lethal management tools can protect livestock and that the poisons pose “unacceptable threats” to non-targeted animals.

The lawsuit, referring to Wildlife Services’ data, said M-44s killed 13,530 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes, in 2016. Of those, 321 were non-targeted animals, “including foxes, a black bear, opossums, raccoons, skunks, a fisher and family dogs.”

Wildlife Services has not responded in detail to criticism, saying an internal review is underway. The agency uses M-44s in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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