Four conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to limit the federal government’s use of deadly cyanide traps.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed a wolf using an M-44 cyanide trap targeting coyotes. The agency uses the devices to protect livestock from potential predators.
In other states, the same device, which baits animals into triggering the release of the poison sodium cyanide, recently killed three dogs and injured a 14-year-old boy.
Colette Adkins with the Center for Biological Diversity said her group and three others want to see more restrictions on the use of what she calls “cyanide bombs.”
“They just look like a little pipe sticking out of the ground, and they’re covered with bait,” she said. “The problem is cyanide bombs are indiscriminate killers, so a wolf can trigger the device, a child, a family dog, and the results are the same: injury and death.”
WildEarth Guardians, The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals joined her group in filing a lawsuit Tuesday. The groups want the court to require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete an analysis of how the poisoned traps could affect threatened and endangered species.
Adkins said the last such analysis was completed in 1993, and another analysis was started in 2011 but never finished.
"A lot has changed since 1993. There are additional species that have been protected under the Endangered Species Act,” she said. “These devices are used across the country, and we want the kind of national analysis that would lead to these devices being pulled anywhere endangered wildlife can encounter them.”
Dave Williams, state director of the USDA Wildlife Services in Oregon, told The Capital Press his agency has removed M-44 cyanide traps from “areas of immediate concern” and has stopped using the traps in six eastern Oregon counties to protect wolves.
A spokesman for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the state agency wasn’t aware Wildlife Services was using the traps in that area. The devices had been prohibited in areas of known wolf activity, and the two agencies had discussed keeping those protections in place after gray wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List in the eastern third of the state. Wolves remain on the endangered list in the western two-thirds of Oregon.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced a bill last week that would ban the use of lethal poisons for predator control efforts.
“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,” he said in a news release. “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.”
According to the USDA’s Wildlife Services data, cyanide traps killed 13,530 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes, in 2016. Of these 321 deaths were nontarget animals, including foxes, a black bear, opossums, raccoons, skunks, a fisher and family dogs.