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BLM bans cyanide bombs used to control predators

A coyote pauses on the crest of a hill in western Wyoming during the spring of 2023. (Tim Mayo)

Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

Editor’s note: M-44 cyanide bombs have also been used in Wyoming to kill coyotes. For more on the devices’ use in Wyoming, click here.

The Bureau of Land Management has banned the use of M-44 cyanide bombs on land it administers throughout the country for a minimum of five years.

Cyanide bombs are used by federal and state agencies to kill wildlife that prey on livestock, though they’ve also killed thousands of non-targeted wild animals and hundreds of domestic dogs, according to an analysis by Predator Defense. 

The bombs are primarily employed by Fish and Wildlife Services, a federal agency that controls  — often lethally — animals that are deemed a threat to livestock, a nuisance to people, or a carrier of diseases. Some state agencies, including the Montana Department of Agriculture, are also authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set M-44s, which are baited and pressure-activated devices that shoot a cloud of sodium cyanide into the air with the goal of killing the animal that triggered it within five minutes. 

Target animals include coyotes, wild dogs, and red and gray foxes, but M-44s have also killed more than 20 non-target species, including opossums, skunks, raccoons and kit foxes, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The agreement was formalized with a memorandum of understanding directing Wildlife Services not to use M44s on any BLM-administered lands through Sept. 30, 2028. BLM Director and former Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Tracy Stone-Manning and Wildlife Services’ Deputy Director Janet Bucknall signed the agreement on Nov. 15. 

“M-44 cyanide devices have been implicated in several incidents, including one in Idaho in 2017 when a family dog was killed and a child was injured after accidentally triggering a device placed on public land 400 feet from their home,” according to a BLM website highlighting the decision. “In another incident, a recreationist triggered an M-44 cyanide device while recreating on BLM-managed public land, resulting in long-term injury and ongoing health problems.”

Per the BLM, less than 1% of the M-44s Wildlife Services set last year were on BLM-managed land. 

BLM’s decision to outlaw the use of M-44s on the 245 million acres of land it manages came after years of lobbying by both conservation groups and individuals who unwittingly triggered the devices and required medical care or experienced long-term health consequences as a result. They’ve been entirely banned or limited in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of dozens of groups that in June petitioned the BLM to outlaw cyanide bombs, said in an email that it aims to leverage this decision to convince other federal land managers to forbid the use of M-44s.

“The Bureau of Land Management did the right thing to protect wildlife, people and pets from these poison-spewing traps,” CBD Carnivore Conservation Director Collette Adkins said. “This good news is long overdue, but it’s outrageous that other federal and state agencies continue to use these deadly devices. We’re going to keep the pressure on until M-44s are pulled from federal lands across the country.”

In 2022, Wildlife Services used M-44s to kill 188 coyotes and five red foxes in Montana, according to the agency’s annual tabulation. According to a Montana Department of Agriculture report, between 2006 and 2019, Montana-licensed M-44 users reported the taking of 806 coyotes, 134 foxes and 13 non-target animals. 

The report, authored in 2020, described M-44s as an important tool for predator management because “they are easy to use, cost-effective [and] canine-specific when compared to other control techniques.” 

This story was originally published by Montana Free Press at montanafreepress.org.

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