Breaking! Trump Administration Reauthorizes Wildlife-Killing M-44 ‘Cyanide Bombs’ Despite Strong Opposition

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Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS

The Trump administration has reauthorized the 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.

The devices spray deadly sodium cyanide into the mouths of unsuspecting coyotes, foxes and other carnivores lured by bait. Anyone or anything that pulls on the baited M-44 device can be killed or severely injured by the deadly spray.

“Cyanide traps can’t be used safely by anyone, anywhere,” Collette Adkins, Carnivore Conservation Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “While the EPA added some restrictions, we need a permanent nationwide ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison.”

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 suggested interim decision renewing sodium cyanide registration and opened a public comment period. More than 99.9% 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 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 non-target wildlife like domestic animals.

“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.”

“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 Service agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions. 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.”

According to Wildlife Services’ own data, M-44s killed 6,579 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes in2018, down from 13,232 animals in2017. Of these, more than 200 deaths were non-target 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.

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.

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.

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