MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) –Major conservation groups brought a federal complaint to stop the use of “cyanide bombs.” Though meant to protect cattle from predators, the bombs are responsible for killing three pet dogs and sending a 14-year-old to the hospital in March.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States et al. want an immediate ban on M-44 “cyanide bombs” and “livestock protection collars” that keep predators such as coyotes and foxes away from livestock.
Filing suit with a federal judge in Missoula, the groups want an order compelling the Department of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the Environmental Protection Agency consultation begun in 2011. The EPA registers the poisons – sodium cyanide and Compound 1080 – for use by some state and federal agencies, but never finished an analysis of how the poisons could affect threatened and endangered species, which the Fish and Wildlife Service protects.
“Cyanide bombs are indiscriminate killers,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In just the past several weeks they’ve injured a child and killed an endangered wolf and several family dogs. These dangerous pesticides need to be banned, but until then, they shouldn’t be used where they can hurt people or kill family pets and endangered wildlife,” Adkins said in an interview.
In mid-March, Canyon Mansfield was walking his dog Casey near their Pocatello, Idaho, home when he pulled on what he thought was a sprinkler head. The pipelike object was a cyanide bomb, which spewed orange gas, hitting the 14-year-old in the eye and blowing directly into Casey’s face. The 3-year-old yellow lab died within minutes, and Mansfield was taken to the hospital, where he was evaluated and released.
Two weeks later near Casper, Wyoming, two dogs triggered a cyanide bomb in an area of mixed public and private property. Both Molly, a 6-year-old Weimaraner, and Abby, a 15-year-old Deutsch-Drahthaar, died shortly from the bomb, which had been placed by a private party.
The poisons also could hurt the protected grizzly bear, gray wolf, Canada lynx, Mexican spotted owl and Southwestern willow flycatcher, the complaint states.
Compound 1080 is placed in collars around the necks of sheep and goats to protect them from predators. Both Compound 1080 and M-44 would be banned for predator control under a bill introduced last week by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio.
“I have been trying to ban the indiscriminate use of lethal devices and poisons like Compound 1080 and the chemicals used in M-44 devices for decades, DeFazio said in a statement. “The use of these deadly toxins by Wildlife Services has led to countless deaths of family pets and innocent animals and injuries to humans. It is only a matter of time before they kill someone.”
Co-plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include Wildearth Guardians and the Fund for Animals. Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services deploys the poisons, Adkins said Department of the Interior is tasked with protecting endangered species, and that’s the focus of the lawsuit.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is supposed to be coming up with mitigation measures to protect endangered species, but their consultation with the EPA under the Endangered Species Act has been stalled since it started in 2011,” Adkins said. “Our lawsuit wants to get the process finished. There are some non-lethal or more targeted methods that can be used rather than indiscriminate killers.”
She wants the two poisons prohibited.
Officials with Wildlife Services couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday. But in a statement after the dogs’ deaths, the agency said it regretted the unintended lethal take and that it’s a rare occurrence.
“Wildlife Services policies and procedures are designed to minimize unintentional take or capture of domestic pets,” the agency said. “It posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when wildlife traps or other devices are being used in an area for wildlife damage management. … These devices are only set at the request of and with permission from property owners or managers.”
But the environmental groups say in the lawsuit that M-44 devices killed 103,255 animals between 1976 and 1986, including 4,868 – 5 percent – of non-targeted animals. Between 2010 and 2016, more than 2,600 non-targeted animals were killed, including 321 in 2016 alone.
“Clearly, it is unsafe and immoral for Wildlife Services to use these poisonous land mines to target native wildlife for killing on lands of any ownership,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Our petition calls upon Wildlife Services to take action to eliminate these brutal and indiscriminate chemical weapons before more kids and pets get hurt.”
The groups seek declaratory judgment and an injunction stopping deployment of the poisons and removing the poisons already deployed, at least until the required consultations are completed.
Sarah McMillan with WildEarth Guardians in Missoula is co-counsel with Adkins.