USDA's Cyanide Bombs Claim More Unintended Victims

Fourteen-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking with Kasey, his Labrador retriever, near his house when he noticed what looked like a sprinkler head. Unwittingly, he touched it, causing an explosion that knocked Canyon to the ground and sprayed orange powder into the boy’s left eye and onto his clothes. Canyon quickly grabbed some snow to wash his eye out, but Kasey had fared worse. The dog had inhaled the bulk of the gas produced by the device—an M-44 cyanide capsule—and within minutes was writhing in pain and convulsing, with a reddish foam gurgling from his mouth. When Canyon’s father started to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Kasey, Canyon stopped him, fearing that Kasey had been poisoned.

Canyon was right. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sodium cyanide “releases hydrogen cyanide gas, a highly toxic chemical asphyxiant that interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen.” Simply put, Kasey suffocated.

Kasey was not the only unintended victim of an M-44 in March. In Wyoming, two families watched in horror as their respective dogs, Abby and Molly, also died after encountering an apparently unmarked M-44. The group had inadvertently wandered onto unidentified private land in the midst of the public land they were exploring.

Although safer, more humane, and less expensive alternatives are available, the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program kills millions of wild animals each year, largely at the behest of ranchers and farmers. In fiscal year 2015, the agency killed over 3.2 million animals, including birds, bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, beavers, and prairie dogs. The program uses M-44s to kill predators—but the intended targets are not always the victims. An award-winning investigation of Wildlife Services by journalist Tom Knudson found that, between 2000 and 2012, over 1,100 dogs were identified as having been killed by M-44s.

After Kasey’s death, several nongovernmental organizations successfully petitioned the USDA to temporarily ban the use of M-44s in Idaho. They are still deployed elsewhere.

Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) recently introduced the Chemical Poisons Reduction Act (HR 1817) to prohibit the use of cyanide bombs and other lethal poisons for predator control. He stated, “The use of these deadly toxins by Wildlife Services has led to countless deaths of family pets and innocent animals and injuries to humans. It is only a matter of time before they kill someone. These extreme so-called ‘predator control’ methods have been proven no more effective than non-lethal methods—the only difference between the two is that the lethal methods supported by the ranching industry are subsidized by American tax dollars.”