OPED: USDA Should end indiscriminate poisoning

OPED: USDA Should end indiscriminate poisoning

PHOTO: The M-44 "Cyanide Bomb" is used by the USDA Wildlife Services Division to kill coyotes. (USDA.gov| Bannock County Sheriff's Office)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor


RAINSVILLE, Ala. Back in October, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made headlines in Northeast Alabama for dropping rabies vaccinations from aircraft in order to help combat the disease among the wildlife population of the area. The USDA issued a notice to citizens alerting them to the planned drop, and many were concerned about the implications of dropping medicine meant for wild animals over an area where plenty of humans inhabit.

The vaccine drop was conducted by the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division, which handles,  “efforts help people resolve wildlife damage to a wide variety of resources and to reduce threats to human health and safety,” according to the USDA website. This includes not only attempting to vaccinate wildlife, but also controlling the populations of predators that negatively affect landowners.

More recently, the agency has come under fire for the use of M-44 Cyanide bombs, which are used to kill coyotes and fox. Almost two weeks ago, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking his golden retriever, Casey, a short distance from his family’s Pocatello, Idaho property. Shortly after starting his hike through the Idaho wilderness, Canyon noticed something protruding from the ground that resembled a sprinkler head. Curious, the boy reached down and touched the object. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.

Canyon Mansfield had stumbled upon a M-44 “Cyanide Bomb,” placed by the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division to control the coyote population. After touching the device, a bang startled Canyon, and the trap sprayed an “orange, powdery substance,” he later told the Idaho State Journal. The substance momentarily blinded Canyon, who quickly covered his face in snow. The 14-year-old would be rushed to a hospital, but luckily, would later be released uninjured. His dog, however, would die minutes after the detonation.

In its intended use, the M-44 bomb is designed to dispense a lethal dose of Cyanide when a coyote or other predator tugs at the “bait,” located on top of the trap. When this happens, a spring loaded piston strikes a poison capsule, dispensing Cyanide powder, which turns into a gas when released. Cyanide is highly toxic and dangerous to all living creatures; not just to coyotes and foxes. A form of cyanide was even used by Nazis in the extermination camps of  World War II.

According to restrictions placed on the devices by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the bombs are only to be placed with permission of the landowner, and clearly marked with a sign in both English and Spanish, warning people of the trap’s use. The public is also supposed to be notified by the Wildlife Services Division when the devices are in use. None of these protocols were adhered to in the recent Idaho case.  

While this may have been an honest mistake on the part of a USDA worker in placing the device in this location, these devices are clearly dangerous to humans and animals. In the last couple of decades, the United Nations and powers across the globe have sought to end use of landmines, but devices that only differ by using poison instead of explosives are being used by our own government, on our own soil.

According to data from the USDA, M-44 bombs are not currently being used in Alabama state, but as our Coyote population increases, the deadly traps could be placed if a landowner requests it’s use to control the predator population. Since this recent incident, there has been an effort by concerned citizens and conservation groups to ban its use, and the USDA is currently reviewing the program.

While population levels of predators should be controlled, the last thing we should be using is poisonous bombs, that only need touching to be activated. While these are designed to kill certain species, any animal or human can step on them, and domesticated animals cannot read warning signs in either Spanish or English.