‘Cyanide bomb’ on U.S. land broke agency policy, spurs several petitions to ban them

Pocatello

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Canyon Mansfield is experiencing some health impacts after accidentally triggering a “cyanide bomb” planted near his family’s home by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency. | Doug Lindley, Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO — Since triggering an M-44 predator control device that spewed poison into 14-year-old Pocatello resident Canyon Mansfield’s face and killed his dog on March 16, the child has experienced headaches, nausea and numbness, the family said Tuesday.

Several formal petitions also surfaced Tuesday, calling for the immediate termination and removal of all devices installed in Idaho by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency. Mark Mansfield, the boy’s father and a local physician, filed one of the petitions directly to the White House.

“The USDA maintains they resolve conflict between wildlife and people ‘in the safest and most humane ways possible,’ but the nature of the cyanide bomb is neither safe nor humane,” Mark wrote in the petition. “Cyanide gas has been used throughout history to murder masses of people.”

Backed by a coalition of conservation and wildlife organizations, the Western Watersheds Project also spearheaded a direct formal petition addressed to Jason Suckow, western region director for USDA-Wildlife Services.

“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,” Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement. “Our petition calls upon Wildlife Services to take action to eliminate these brutal and indiscriminate chemical weapons before more kids and pets get hurt.”

An additional petition filed on the website Care2 reached more than 30,000 signatures Tuesday evening.

Theresa Mansfield, Canyon’s mother, said that although the family is a little less heartbroken over the death of their dog, it’s been overwhelming dealing with the petitions and political pressure to prevent other families from experiencing similar circumstances.

“We’re still in shock that this has happened,” Theresa said. “Like, someone put a loaded gun on the top of my hill. Someone planted a bomb right out in my backyard, and the federal government makes it so that this is okay. I see this as murder.”

Molvar said that unlike petitions on the internet, which are good for demonstrating substantial amounts of public support behind a movement, the formal document from the Western Watersheds Project falls under the Administrative Procedures Act, which carries a legal requirement for the agency to provide a written response.

“If the USDA fails to respond to the (Administrative Procedures Act) petition in a reasonable time, which, based on case law, could be a couple years, the petitioner has the right to litigate,” Molvar said. “If the agency is found in violation of that law, it could lead to other consequences potentially.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an emailed statement to the Journal on March 17 that “the unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence,” but have not returned multiple requests since the initial release.

“This incident is exactly why extremely dangerous M-44 cyanide bombs, or other indiscriminate killing tools like traps and poisons, should not be placed on our public lands,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “It would be a mistake to call this tragedy an accident. It’s not an accident if federal employees are knowingly placing deadly devices where children and companion animals play; that’s extreme and inexcusable negligence.”

Theresa said the area where her son came across the M-44 is a hill that overlooks houses with barking dogs and children playing. From where the location of the M-44s — commonly referred to as “cyanide bombs” because of the spring-activated trigger typically smeared with bait that shoots cyanide into an animal’s mouth when it tugs on the device — onlookers can see the Mansfield family swing set.

The conservation groups united in calling the killing of native wildlife “morally reprehensible,” and pointed to the absence of any scientific basis for lethal control of native predators.

“Cyanide bombs are indiscriminate killers that must be banned,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Any animal that might pull on the baited trigger is at risk, including endangered wildlife like Canada lynx and grizzlies, as well as people and pets. And in just the past few weeks these cruel devices have injured a child and killed an endangered wolf and several family dogs. Enough is enough.”

Earlier in 2017, an M-44 killed a wolf in northeastern Oregon despite an agreement with state agencies that these types of lethal devices not be set in areas where wolves are known to roam.

In November, Wildlife Services responded to pressure from conservation groups by publishing a decision that prevented the use of M-44s on public lands. However, the device that killed the Mansfield family’s 3-year-old Labrador retriever, Casey, and injured Canyon were installed on Bureau of Land Management land in February.

“It’s a fact that it was installed on BLM land,” said Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Neilsen. “It was about 300 yards from the residence and there were no posted warning signs at the time this happened. All three of those are violations of the protocol.”

It’s unclear how the USDA worker who planted the devices ended up on BLM land.

The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office has completed its investigation and forwarded it to the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office, where officials will determine if the incident constitutes criminal charges.

The conservation organizations also pointed out the long history of unintentional killing of pets and injuries to people that have resulted from the accidental triggering of M-44s in residential areas and on public lands. And in a recent documentary, former Wildlife Services employees made public statements regarding the agency’s repeated and habitual flouting of regulations and common-sense safety practices.

“Since 2000, Wildlife Services has killed more than 50,000 members of more than 150 non-target species,” according to the Western Watersheds Project formal petition.

The employee with the Wildlife Services division who installed the M-44s near the Mansfields’ home has been identified. The USDA has not said why he installed the devices on unauthorized land.

It’s a mystery how Canyon survived, according to Mark, adding that his son’s exposure was so intense compared to others because unlike many other situations, it was Canyon, not the dog, that triggered the device.

“We’re working the medical side of things and there’s stuff that we’re dealing with,” Mark said. “He’s having problems, headaches, coughing, and nausea, but we’re pushing through it.”

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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