The Trump administration has reauthorised the government department of Wildlife Services to use controversial poison devices, known as ‘cyanide bombs’, to kill wild animals across the US.
The traps, called M-44s, are spring-loaded and filled with sodium cyanide. Wildlife Services, a federal agency within the US Department of Agriculture, uses M-44s, among other methods, to kill huge numbers of wild animals every year.
In 2018, for example, Wildlife Services reported they had dispatched more than 1.5 million native animals, including beavers, black bears, wolves and owls. Around 6,500 were killed by M-44s. A large part of the agency’s work comes from private farmers and ranchers.
Earlier this week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will allow the continued use of sodium-cyanide in M-44s across the country, on an interim basis, The Guardian reports.
However, the use of cyanide traps is facing increased opposition, as they have also caused the inadvertent deaths of endangered species, domestic pets, and harmed humans.
In 2017, for example, a teenager called Canyon Mansfield was hiking with his dog in Pocatello, Idaho, when the dog triggered a cyanide trap. The poison sprayed killed Canyon’s dog almost instantly, while the teenager was rushed to hospital.
Mansfield fortunately survived, and now his parents are suing Wildlife Services over the incident. The case brought the controversial use of M-44s into the public sphere, and fuelled opposition to them.
Wildlife Services stopped using the devices in Idaho after the Mansfield case in 2017, and also temporarily stopped using them in Colorado the same year, after a number of environmental groups sued. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, has also signed a ban on using M-44s in the state.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a leading opponent of M-44s, 99.9 per cent of all comments received by EPA in the months leading up to their recent announcement regarding the devices were in opposition to the decision.
Brooks Fahy, the executive director of the environmental group Predator Defense, criticised the EPA’s decision, telling The Guardian:
[It’s a] complete disaster. [The EPA] ignored the facts and they ignored cases that, without a doubt, demonstrate that there is no way M-44s can be used safely.
In the EPA’s documentation of their decision, they wrote:
The overwhelming majority of comments from the general public, including the more than 20,000 letters from the write-in campaign, did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide predacide uses (M-44 devices).
Despite the public outcry, the agency will be continuing the use of M-44s for now. They have, however, introduced new restrictions, such as having to place the devices at least 100 feet away from public roads or trails. The agency will be reviewing the interim decision, before making a final judgement, in 2021.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.