Groups call for ban on ‘cyanide bombs’ on federal land
WASHINGTON (CN) — Over 70 environmental groups on Thursday called on federal land agencies to immediately ban the use of so-called cyanide bombs, arguing the current timeline is too slow to protect wildlife and people.
The M-44 devices, small metal stakes placed in the ground that launch spring-activated toxic sodium cyanide powder, are used on thousands of acres of land operated by the Bureau of Land Management to kill predators such as coyotes, wolves, foxes and wild dogs.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition comes on the heels of two congressional bills that would ban the use of the devices on public lands that were introduced this month by Democrats from Oregon, Tennessee and California. A nearly identical bill — known as Canyon’s Law — was introduced in July 2021 but saw little progress outside of a committee hearing in the summer of 2022.
The legislation was named for Canyon Mansfield, a young boy from Idaho who was injured by the device while walking his dog in 2017.
Mansfield, who was 14 years old at the time, set the device off thinking it was a sprinkler, which launched a cloud of sodium cyanide into his left eye and killed Kasey, his golden retriever.
The chemical, when ingested, can cause cardiac arrest and respiratory failure in humans, while animals may suffer internal bleeding and seizures before death.
Activists such as Collette Adkins, the carnivore conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, worry that the longer it takes for the agency to act, the more likely another incident will occur.
“It shouldn’t take another tragedy for the Interior Department to finally ban these dangerous devices,” Adkins said in a statement Thursday. “It’s outrageous that these poison-spewing devices are still scattered across our federal public lands. They place endangered animals, wildlife, hikers and dogs at risk of injury or death.”
The Bureau of Land Management declined to comment on the petition.
According to 2022 data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the cyanide bombs killed 5,514 coyotes, 364 gray foxes, 48 red foxes and four feral dogs. There were also approximately 150 animals killed by the devices unintentionally.
Since 1978, there have been eight recorded instances of endangered wildlife being killed by cyanide bombs, including grizzly bears, endangered wolves and California condors. That count does not include other federally protected animals, such as gray wolves and bald eagles, that have been killed by the devices.
The devices have also injured and even killed humans, with 42 people being harmed between 1984 and 2015 according to government data. While most incidents only end in injury, one Utah man who was exposed to a cyanide bomb in 2003 suffered such lasting impacts that the device was listed as a contributing factor on his 2018 death certificate.
The Interior Department has recently expressed concern over the devices, indicating in a statement before a House Committee on Natural Resource hearing in 2022 that it "is concerned that these devices pose a risk of injury or death to unintended targets, including humans, pet and threatened and endangered species.”
The agency did not outright support the bill, deferring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but promised to implement a ban if one is enacted.
Absent any federal action, states have taken it upon themselves to curb the use of devices. Oregon outright banned their use in 2020, while court-ordered restrictions have taken effect in Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho.
Pesticide regulators in Arizona enacted rules that limited the devices' use.
The devices remain available in states like Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas. According to Wildlife Services data, Texas has the highest usage, with nearly 50% of M-44s in 2017.
Manfield, after narrowly surviving the incident, went on to become a wrestler in high school and is now a sophomore at Arizona State University.