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‘Cyanide bomb’ that injured Idaho boy, killed dog has just been banned — for now


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Three years ago, a 14-year-old Pocatello boy was injured and his Labrador retriever was killed when the teen inadvertently triggered a USDA Wildlife Services M-44, a device containing sodium-cyanide powder meant to kill predators. On Wednesday, the devices were banned in Idaho — at least for now.

USDA Wildlife Services and several conservation groups settled a 2016 lawsuit over the devices’ use on gray wolves in Idaho. As a result, Wildlife Services agreed to ban M-44s, among other requirements, pending its completion of an environmental impact statement on the effects of its gray wolf damage management activities. Depending on the results of that assessment, Wildlife Services might be able to reintroduce the devices in the future.

In addition, Wildlife Services won’t use lethal management methods on wolves in multiple Idaho areas, including any wilderness areas, the Sawtooth and Hells Canyon national recreation areas and the Sawtooth Valley. It also will not use lethal methods on suspected wolf depredation on livestock unless an attack is witnessed or documented.

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The agency previously announced in 2017 that it would temporarily stop using M-44 devices in Idaho.

Canyon Mansfield
Canyon Mansfield

“For far too long, Wildlife Services has pursued a program of indiscriminate wolf killing, in Idaho and elsewhere, even before there had actually been any confirmed wolf-livestock conflict,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director with one of the plaintiffs, WildEarth Guardians, in a news release. “Instead of killing wolves as a first resort, Wildlife Services should stop using our taxpayer dollars to kill native wildlife and instead focus its efforts on nonlethal methods, which evidence demonstrates work better to reduce livestock losses.”

The M-44 devices are also known as “cyanide bombs,” because triggering them can expose the sodium-cyanide powder to moisture in the air, turning it into a potentially lethal gas. Wildlife Services disputes that description, calling the devices “pesticides.” In 2017, officials at a Boise meeting said the devices have a baited capsule holder which predators pull on, ejecting the sodium-cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth.

RELATED: Family of boy sprayed by cyanide bomb files lawsuit against federal government

Canyon Mansfield, the Pocatello teen who was injured in 2017 by an M-44, said in the conservation groups’ news release that the settlement showed progress and justice for his yellow Lab, Kasey, who was killed by the device.

“I believe this shows that we are fighting a battle with a victory in sight,” Mansfield said.

M-44 devices are not the only method by which Wildlife Services kills wolves. Others include firearms, foothold traps and neck snares. In 2018, the agency reported using lethal methods on 84 gray wolves in Idaho. That’s up from 53 wolves killed in the state in 2017, 72 killed in 2016 and 70 killed in 2015.