The federal agency that manages cyanide devices used to kill coyotes and other livestock predators won’t decide whether to lift a ban in Idaho until an investigation into a troubling incident involving a Pocatello boy and his dog is completed, an official with USDA Wildlife Services said at a public meeting Wednesday in Boise.
Wildlife Services gave a presentation on their agency’s multi-faceted mission at the Holiday Inn-Boise Airport in front of a crowd of about 25 people, not including two Boise police officers at the back of the room.
They also answered questions and demonstrated how the controversial M-44 sodium cyanide devices work. It was the second of three informational meetings the agency has planned in Idaho; the last is in Pocatello on Thursday night.
About 15 to 20 opponents of the use of devices — which they call “bombs” — waved signs outside the hotel before the meeting. One of the protesters was the sister of the 14-year-old Pocatello boy, Canyon Mansfield, who watched his dog die from cyanide poisoning.
Canyon Mansfield has suffered severe headaches, numbness in his limbs and emotional trauma from the incident, Madison Mansfield told the Statesman.
Madison Mansfield, a 21-year-old pre-med student who is working in Seattle this summer, said she dropped everything to go a Wildlife Services meeting in Lewiston on Wednesday to speak out against the continued use of M-44 devices, and she will be at the Pocatello event too.
“In this day and age, the use of M-44s is completely absurd,” she said. “It’s not worth the risk of losing pets, of losing children possibly. It’s not worth it at all.”
The protesters in the audience listened attentively during the first hour of the meeting, though several erupted spontaneously when Idaho Wildlife Services Director Todd Grimm talked about cyanide being a natural substance, occurring in lima beans, almonds, apples and cigarette smoke.
“How is that relevant?” one woman asked.
“People think that cyanide — instant death,” Grimm said. “That’s not necessarily accurate.”
Grimm said cyanide is also used in manufacturing, mining, textiles, plastics and film developing.
“I’ve been with this [Wildlife Services] program since 1992. Before March 17 of this year, I had never heard the term ‘cyanide bomb,’ ” Grimm said.
The cyanide devices are trigged when an animal pulls on a baited capsule holder; sodium cyanide powder is ejected into the animal’s mouth, killing it within five minutes.
Jason Suckow, Fort Collins, Colo.-based western regional director for Wildlife Services, said M-44s are a pesticide that has to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There’s a whole litany of tests that you have to go through in order to get a pesticide registered,” he said. “They have to do all these various risk assessments — human exposure, pet exposure, all sorts of impact analysis before they approve any pesticide, not just M-44s, but any pesticide.”
Wildlife Services temporarily suspended the use of cyanide bombs in Idaho this past April, after hue and cry following the incident in Pocatello.
A letter to Wildlife Services from 19 conservation and wildlife groups moved the agency to stop use of the devices on all private, state and federal lands. They also removed all the devices that were deployed. Suckow said the use of M-44s was later resumed under new guidelines in all states where it’s authorized, except Idaho.
Wildlife Services says it’s authorized to use the M-44 devices in at least 16 states.
“WS [Wildlife Services] understands the public’s concern regarding the use of M-44s,” the agency said in a news release about the public meetings. “It is offering these sessions to provide information about the devices, procedures and guidelines to ensure that all devices are set in a manner that minimizes the chances of attracting non-target species.”
The news release said a 2015 survey of livestock producers found that more than 118,000 lambs and sheep in the United States, including 3,700 in Idaho, were killed by predators such as coyotes, foxes and feral dogs. They provided a link to an M-44 fact sheet.
“It goes to the larger question of what are our public lands for?” Kristin Ruether, an attorney for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project, told the Statesman on Wednesday. “They’re for wildlife and public use.”
Ruether said it is wrong for the government to “sanitize public lands to make them safe for sheep.”
“Our public lands are more valuable for other things,” she said.
The group leading the effort to end the use of M-44 devices is Predator Defense. The group’s website, predatordefense.org, has information about victims of these devices and proposed legislation banning them.
The Pocatello meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Idaho State University-Pond Student Union, 1065 Cesar Chavez.