When young Canyon Mansfield and Casey, his three-year-old Lab, headed out together to play in the area behind their home in eastern Idaho, they hardly expected the walk to be their last together.
Without notifying a soul, and in violation of their agreement not to place sodium cyanide M-44s on federal public lands, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program placed a deadly device near the Mansfield’s home, on Bureau of Land Management land.
Canyon saw what he thought was a sprinkler and touched the M-44 with his hand. It exploded, discharging an orange powder onto his clothes and into his eye and knocking him off his feet. He was hit squarely by the cyanide cloud that erupted, and he watched in horror as his dog convulsed and then died before his eyes. The Pocatello sheriff came to the scene as did the local bomb squad and fire department. One official was hospitalized until early morning hours because of the level of cyanide in his blood.
Later, a grieving Canyon would be treated at the hospital for exposure to cyanide.
Casey’s death happened just days after M-44s killed two dogs in Wyoming near the Powder River area when they were out on a hike with their family. In this instance, it appears that the M-44s were placed there by a trapper certified with Wyoming’s Department of Agriculture program. Earlier this month, an M-44 claimed the life of a protected Oregon gray wolf, sparking a different but equally intense form of outrage. The agency confirmed its field agents had hidden nearly 100 M-44s in the ground to kill coyotes. In each case, the secretly placed landmines put the public, family pets, and protected wildlife at risk.
While the individual stories are new, the narrative is a familiar one. This rogue agency of the federal government slaughters millions of wild animals each year, using an arsenal of M-44s, aerial gunning, traps, and firearms. It does so much of this work at the expense of taxpayers, and it collects plenty of unintended victims.
The USDA is often unapologetic about the collateral damage it inflicts. Whether the killing of a pet or an endangered species is done with an M-44, a leghold trap, or a strangling wire neck snare, the agency typically offers no apology and issues a bland statement that refers to the tragedy as an “unintentional lethal take.” Had Casey’s death not been witnessed by the boy who loved him, we might have never heard about it, since the agency is known to cover up these kinds of abuses.
In Oregon, which neighbors Idaho, one lawmaker in particular has long waged a battle to reform USDA Wildlife Services. Congressman Peter Defazio, who has taken the agency to task over the years for its lack of transparency and arrogant disregard of public accountability, has introduced a bill in Congress to ban the use of M-44 and poisonous Compound 1080 collars. DeFazio also issued a letter to Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown, thanking her for eliminating state contracts for USDA Wildlife Services from her proposed state budget – since the state pays a share of the annual budget for Wildlife Services. We admire Congressman DeFazio for his dedication to reform this agency and his effort to turn its management actions away from lethal and toward non-lethal methods. He’s been joined in the crusade by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the co-chairman of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.
DeFazio and Blumenauer aren’t alone in demanding that M-44s be removed from the landscape. In response to the Mansfield family’s ordeal, the Bannock County Sheriff and other community leaders have called for a ban on M-44s in Bannock County. Even newspapers have joined in calling for reform, including the East Oregonian, which called for USDA’s Wildlife Services to remove all M-44s from Oregon. (California and Washington have banned M-44s after The HSUS conducted winning ballot measures to bar the use of poisons in the states for wildlife killing purposes nearly 20 years ago.)
Recently, President Trump submitted his budget for 2018, and it called for major cuts in domestic programs, including the USDA. Somehow, Wildlife Services wasn’t on the list.
But it’s not too late for President Trump to take a second look and see the waste, abuse, and inhumane practices by an agency that has somehow survived even while doing things to hurt so many animals and the people who care about them. And locally, Gov. Brown and other governors can tell Wildlife Services to take its killing game out of the western states.