Washington, DC—Earlier this week, the Trump administration reauthorized use of sodium cyanide in wildlife-killing devices called M-44s. These “cyanide bombs” received approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency despite inhumanely and indiscriminately killing thousands of animals each year while also injuring people.
The EPA allows the use of these devices by the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. The EPA also authorizes M-44s to be used 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, the EPA added several use restrictions. For example, M-44s now cannot be placed within 100 feet—up from 50 feet—of a public road or pathway. Elevated warning signs must be placed within 15 feet—down from 25 feet—of each device. And people living within a half-mile of an M-44 placement must be notified.
None of the restrictions will prevent the killing of non-target wildlife, however.
“Since the 1970s, M-44 devices have killed more than 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.”
“Cyanide traps can’t be used safely by anyone, anywhere,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director for 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.”
According to Wildlife Services’ own data, last year M-44s killed more than 6,500 animals—mostly coyotes and foxes; in 2017, at least 13,232 animals were killed. Of the 2017 deaths, more than 200 were non-target animals, including foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks and a bear. Most likely, these numbers significantly underestimate the true death toll since Wildlife Services is notorious for poor data collection and an entrenched mentality that emphasizes lethal methods of wildlife management.
“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 for 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.”
M-44s spray deadly sodium cyanide into the mouths of unsuspecting coyotes, foxes and other carnivores lured by smelly bait. Any animal or person who pulls on the baited M-44 device can be killed or severely injured by the spray.
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.
Following a 2017 lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies, the US 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 Colorado Wildlife Services to temporarily halt the use of M-44s while the agency 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.
Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org