Taking USDA’s Wildlife Services program to court

By on April 6, 2017 with 9 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Last month, a federal agent placed an M-44 cyanide bomb on public lands in eastern Idaho. As intended, it detonated, but the agent missed his target and claimed a couple of unintended victims: a 14-year-old boy, Canyon Mansfield, was sprayed as the poison shot out of the explosive device. He survived, but his dog Casey, who was also sprayed, didn’t.

Days before, M-44s killed two more dogs – Molly and Abby– in Wyoming when they were out for a hike with their family (including a child).

In yet another incident, an M-44 recently detonated and killed a protected gray wolf in Oregon.

The steady stream of wildlife deaths caused by M-44s rarely makes the news, partly because it’s been going on for so long. But when a human or pet triggers the devices, people sit up and take note. These incidents then, tragic as they are, force all of us to take a fresh look at a government program that is as obscure as it is deadly.

The big-picture story here is that our own U.S. Department of Agriculture houses a program whose agents kill millions of wild animals a year at taxpayer expense, and endanger citizens.

The government is supposed to be the protector of animals, not the persecutor, and the USDA’s Wildlife Services has long been a program with the wrong mission and wrong execution. Too much execution, in fact.

That’s why we need a grand solution. This week, The HSUS and other wildlife protection groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a long-overdue review of some of the lethal and indiscriminate poisons used by the Wildlife Services program to kill wild animals, including sodium cyanide (used in M-44s) and Compound 1080. The EPA – recognizing the dire threat these chemicals pose to non-target endangered animals – requested this consultation more than six years ago, but the poisons continue to be routinely used without proper scientific analysis, allowing them to litter western landscapes shared with wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, and dogs.

We are hopeful that the court will look at the record and order the USDA to stop using these poisons. But that’s not the only front of action. After the recent wolf poisoning, the federal government agreed to eliminate the use of M-44s from six eastern Oregon counties. Just last week, Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced a bill to ban sodium cyanide M-44s and Compound 1080 everywhere in the United States.

The M-44 device is a metal tube, about the size of a tent stake. It is topped with a smelly bait designed to lure wild carnivores such as coyotes. The metal tube contains a piston mechanism that, when triggered, plunges into a polyethylene capsule of sodium cyanide. The powdered cyanide sprays into the mouth of the victim where it mixes with saliva and turns into deadly cyanide gas that is readily absorbed into the lungs, causing asphyxiation. Cyanide is the substance that the Nazis used in gas chambers during the Holocaust. It is one of the most acutely toxic substances on earth and yet, Wildlife Services routinely uses this poison in more than a dozen states. Only a few of these states prohibit the placement of sodium cyanide M-44s on their public lands.

Like leghold traps and cable neck snares, M-44s do not discriminate between “target” (e.g. coyotes, foxes) and “non-target” (e.g. people, family pets, wolves, bears, cattle, and bald eagles) victims. And the death toll from M-44s is staggering. Wildlife Services data show that in the last year alone, M-44s killed 13,208 animals, including hundreds of non-target species such as dogs, foxes, raccoons, opposums, and skunks, in addition to the thousands of coyotes and other target species killed each year. In just one state (Texas) in 2016, Wildlife Services intentionally killed 4,738 animals with M-44s, including 4,210 coyotes, 466 gray foxes, and 56 red foxes. Of course, those are the agency’s numbers, and given its penchant for hiding data and its near-obsession with avoiding public accountability, we have every reason to suspect it drastically under-reports the number of animals that die – intentionally or otherwise – in the course of its operations.

There is simply no reason for the federal government to keep spending millions of dollars every year to use poisons to kill wildlife, on behalf of a small group of ranchers who can use alternative methods of mitigating conflicts. If President Trump is serious about slashing wasteful government spending, the Wildlife Services program would be a good place to start.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Doris Muller says:

    This will be interesting. I will anxiously await the results.

    It’s scary to be a tax-paying supporter of such a vicious, violent wildlife exterminating psychopathic government dept.—and in the USA.

    • Michael M says:

      Policies are the province of elected and appointed individuals and generally they occur in a partisan manner – political parties claim to serve various segments of the public.
      From local to national, these individuals can generally be recognized by their history and the contributors to their election campaigns. THeir previous ties and personal relationships are also available to the public for wise selection.

      The psychopthy reaches further, though:
      Large agricultural organizations, the American Federation of Farm Bureaus, and its constitutent state organizations are one identifiable group pressuring for lethal control of wildlife.
      Another huge one is the Cattlemens’ Beef Association and like groups.

      One tactic necessary to strip inordinate power from these lethally self-interested groups (other agricultural groups and especially large seed, pesticide, herbicide producing corporations also seriously damage and even destroy vital ecosystem component animals), is to change the electoral system through rules allowing individuals and for-profit groups: They must no longer be allowed to contribute funding to candidates, and only some sort of general pool equally funding all candidates replace the present highly corrupted US electoral system.

      Your very food dollars are used in part – through your food selection – to fund the political parties, corporations, and lobbyists that have allowed the persistence of wildlife poisoning. Your own choices are part of the momentum of violent death.
      Ecosystems in nature exist in a fluctuating balance, with predator numbers dependent upon prey.
      Human overpopulation has led to such dangerously polluting excesses as CAFOs. It has also led to excessive power of agricultural lobbies, as well as excessive takeover of natural ecosystems.
      For instance, if you travel the US west, you can note that ALL the valleys constituting winter habitat for native species, are privatized, “owned”, controlled by agricultural or developmental interests. Only a few high valleys as in Yellowstone remain at all natural, without hordes of builders, domestic grazing and farming interests, sport hunters, all eradicating North America’s native wildlife.

      Worldwide, humans now take around 50% of primary production – the energy the earth receives from the sun, transformed by plants. Only a decade ago, it was around 40%.

      All other large species exist in numbers from 1/1000 to 1/100,000 or less, than do humans. This is an imbalance of magnitude that must not persist.
      Worse, we encase massive formerly productive soil under asphalt and cement, for centuries – and this destruction has only occurred for about 100 years in all the history of earth.

      Consider this well from the viewpoint of the plants and animals that contribute to biological life’s diversity and function to support life in any scale in the future.
      While I study cognitive ethology, the cognitions and behaviors of all animals, I do so from an empathy for each individual – since life is individual , commensal, symbiotic, individuals are the only source we can comprehend to experience true empathy.

      But we CANNOT constrain our care to just one or a few other organisms, and right now, human self-interest bias is especially wrong.

  2. Mari Smith says:

    No wildlife no life period.
    Remember the balance the ecology

  3. Frances Leard says:

    What is wrong with the sick government laws to keep killing our wildlife plus domestic animals as well?

    Why do we keep signing petitions to help save all our wildlife when these sick heartless government people continue to kill them no matter who get’s hurt?

    It’s too bad the bomb didn’t backfire and kill the people setting it off. I’m so sick of hearing about our innocent wildlife being blown away for WHAT reason..

  4. Carole Giacomazzo says:

    How terribly inhumane and cruel! I had no idea anything like this poison even existed as a means to reduce our wildlife population. I am extremely upset that any government program is obviously using taxpayer monies to kill our wild animals and why is this okay with our government officials? Who thinks up these awful, horrible ways to kill, and why? I’m also tired of hearing about ranchers being appeased by government programs that advocate killing any critter they deem to be giving them “problems”, i.e., wild horses, wild burros, coyotes, wolves, bears, etc.. Is the government trying to eliminate our wildlife for the purpose of using our land for business purposes (whose businesses)? Lots of questions, no answers. Glad for your advocacy, please stop this madness!,

  5. Vegas Vegan says:

    While you’re at it, can you amend the lawsuit to include keeping the Endangered Species Act intact? Just read that it’s up on the chopping block.

  6. Candace Colby says:

    I’ll be contacting our congressional representatives and asking them to ban the use of this poison and to work on eliminating this terrible federal program. Enough is enough.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    What a barbaric country we live in. Is there no limit to the savagery that our government and its citizens can use against animals? What have animals done to deserve any of this savagery? What have the wolves and bears in Alaska done to deserve the treatment that they will receive because a cruel politician took it upon himself to repeal protection and substitute it for killing and destruction of our wildlife? Nothing. What depravity rules this country which allows for the destruction of animal life so cruelly and brutally? A what of factory farmed animals? Their lives are even more cruel and unnatural than the animals who at least don’t have their entire lives in cages or stalls. It would be better to never have been born. It is just immensely unfair and immoral. The whole lot of it. I am sickened by treatment of animals and it is a worldwide horror show. I can only cling to my vegetarianism as a way of saving some animals a horrible fate. We love our cats and dogs all the more. I wish that those who call themselves “Christian” would open their eyes and hearts to see the injustices and cruelties inflicted upon all animals. I don’t believe that the Christ wanted it to be this way.

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