USDA agrees to temporarily stop M-44 cyanide use in Idaho


After a cyanide trap killed a dog in Pocatello and sickened a child, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program announced Monday that it would stop using M-44 cyanide bombs in Idaho, at least temporarily.

The decision came after a petition was filed by 19 conservation and wildlife organizations two weeks ago. The cyanide bombs were being used to kill predators and pests.

In a letter sent to conservation groups Monday, the USDA’s Wildlife Services announced it has ceased the use of M-44 cyanide bombs on all private, state and federal lands in Idaho, and has removed all M-44s that were deployed in the state.

M-44 devices are spring-loaded and tipped with deadly sodium cyanide. The device blasts poison on any animal or person that triggers them. Environmental and animal-welfare groups filed a lawsuit April 4, claiming the U.S. government was violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the use of two predator-killing poisons, according to The Associated Press.

“This is an important victory, at least a temporary one, for both wildlife and for public safety across Idaho,” said Erik Molvar, executive director with Western Watersheds Project, in a news release. “We thank Wildlife Services for doing the right thing by removing these deadly and indiscriminate killing devices, and urge them to make the moratorium permanent.”

The petition to stop using M-44s was filed in response to the Pocatello incident, in which a 14-year-old boy was sprayed with cyanide and his dog was killed.

Despite the sweeping nature of the moratorium and the removal of M-44s throughout the state, it might not amount to a permanent ban. In its letter, Wildlife Services informed the groups that “WS will notify you 30 days prior to placing any new M-44s in Idaho” according to a news release from the Western Watersheds Project.

“We welcome the news of a temporary ban, although we remind activists and taxpayers that Wildlife Services has made no commitment to cease the use of M-44s for any definite period,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells in the news release. “These deadly, inhumane devices could go back into use as soon as next month, so we must remain vigilant.”

The groups petitioning for the M-44 ban were Western Watersheds Project, Predator Defense, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Wildlife Conservancy, Nevada Wildlife Alliance, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Environmental Protection Information Center, the Wolf Conservation Center, Wilderness Watch, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, Footloose Montana, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, Voices of Wildlife, and the Mountain Lion Foundation.

“This could well be the tipping point that leads to a nationwide ban of these extraordinarily dangerous devices via the legislation introduced in Congress last month,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of the national wildlife advocacy group, Predator Defense, in the news release. “As the recent cases in Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon amply demonstrate, M-44s endanger non-target wildlife, pets and children, no matter how they are used.”

Efforts to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday were unsuccessful.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman