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EPA Reauthorizes 'Cyanide Bombs' To Kill Predators, But With Buffers

jpc.raleigh / Flickr
A coyote photographed in Yellowstone National Park.

The Trump administration has reauthorized the use of "cyanide bombs," a controversial device that kills animals suspected of preying on livestock and threatened species.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced that it will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue using the devices, technically known as M-44s, but with new restrictions intended to "reduce the potential for unintended impacts on humans, pets, and other non-target animals."

Conservation groups have fought to ban M-44s, which are primarily used to kill coyotes. Wildlife Services data show the devices killed 5,608 coyotes in 2018.

The new restrictions include larger buffer areas around the devices. The Center for Biological Diversity's Collette Adkins says that's not enough.

"What's better is to use preventative measures, non-lethal measures, like guard dogs, sensing, motion sensing light," she said. "And even if you're going to use lethal methods, there are methods that are more targeted than just putting these poisons out on our public lands."

Livestock industry groups praised the decision. "Livestock producers face heavy losses from predators, amounting to more than $232 million in death losses annually," Benny Cox, president of the American Sheep Industry Association, said in a statement. "We are particularly vulnerable during lambing and calving, where we see the worst predation."

A Wildlife Services fact sheet describes how cyanide bombs work. "The M-44 device is triggered when a canid, such as a coyote or feral dog, tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal's mouth," it says. "The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal's mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Death is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered."

The devices came under heavy scrutiny after one injured a 14-year-old boy and killed his dog in Idaho in March 2017.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.


Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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