EPA Reauthorizes Controversial 'Cyanide Bombs' for Killing Wild Animals: 'A Complete Disaster'

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reauthorized the use of controversial devices known as M-44s, or "cyanide bombs," which are designed to kill certain animals for predator control purposes.

The devices use a smelly bait to lure in wildlife before releasing deadly sodium cyanide into the mouth of any animal that takes a bite.

Currently, the M-44s are used by Wildlife Services—a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency that kills millions of animals every year using a variety of methods, ostensibly to protect livestock, according to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

Data from the agency suggests that these spring-loaded traps killed 6,579 animals in 2018—the majority of which were coyotes and foxes. At least 200 of these deaths were non-target animals—such as bears, skunks and opossums—although the real figure is likely higher, the CBD says, accusing the agency of poor data collection.

The spring-loaded traps are also authorized for use by state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas.

The CBD and other critics say that the traps "inhumanely and indiscriminately" kill thousands of animals every year, posing a danger to endangered species, domestic pets and even humans.

For example, a teenage boy, Canyon Mansfield, was poisoned by one of the traps in 2017 while walking with his dog in Pocatello, Idaho, in a case that gained national attention. The dog triggered one of the traps and was killed instantly, while Mansfield was hospitalized, The Guardian reported. He eventually recovered but his family subsequently brought a lawsuit against Wildlife Services.

Idaho subsequently imposed a moratorium on the use of M-44s on public lands, while Colorado has also temporarily banned them in response to pressure from environmental groups. Meanwhile, the state of Oregon has put in place a permanent ban on the use of the traps.

As part of a routine review, the EPA decided to ask the public for their views on the use of the traps earlier this year.

According to an analysis conducted by the CBD and Western Environmental Law Center, more than 99.99 percent of the comments were in favor of banning the M-44s for predator control purposes.

Nevertheless, the EPA announced on Tuesday that it would reauthorize the use of the traps on an interim basis—until a final decision can be made in 2021—albeit with certain restrictions, in an attempt to address some of the criticism leveled at them.

Among these new restrictions, the EPA has said the devices cannot be placed within 100 feet of a public road or pathway—an increase of 50 feet over the previous regulations. Furthermore, elevated warning signs must now be placed within 15 feet of each trap, down from 25 feet.

Environmental advocates remain unconvinced by the new restrictions, however.

"Cyanide traps can't be used safely by anyone, anywhere," Collette Adkins, from the CBD, said in a statement. "While the EPA added some restrictions, these deadly devices have caused too much harm to remain in use. We need a permanent nationwide ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison."

In particular, some are concerned that the new restrictions will not do anything to address the killing of non-target wildlife.

"Tightening up use restrictions is turning a blind eye to the reality of M-44s," Brooks Fahy, executive director of advocacy group Predator Defense, said in a statement. "In my 25 years working with M-44 victims I've learned that Wildlife Services' agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions. And 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."

Predator Defence has been a vocal critic of the Wildlife Services agency and it describes as its "utterly misnamed" program that kills animals using "cruel, indiscriminate [and] ineffective" methods.

"Wildlife Services is a strategically misnamed federal program within the USDA that wastes millions of dollars each year killing wild animals with traps, snares, poisons, gas, and aerial gunning at the request of corporate agriculture and the hunting lobby," a statement on the Predator Defense website reads.

"According to their official reports, they have slaughtered over 34 million animals in the last decade. Even worse, we've had whistleblowers tell us repeatedly that Wildlife Services' real kill numbers are significantly higher, just not reported," the statement read. "In 2018 alone they claim to have killed 2.6 million animals, including 1.5 million native wildlife species."

In response to a request for comment from Newsweek, the EPA said to refer to the Interim Registration Review Decision on the registration of sodium cyanide, which can be found here.

This article was updated to include additional information provided by the EPA.

M-44, cyanide trap
An M-44 cyanide trap which has been chewed by an animal. Center for Biological Diversity/Adobe Acrobat Pro 11.0.20