Friends of the Clearwater’s Ashley Lipscomb  presented on M44 Cyanide Bomb Use by the USDA’s Wildlife Service for the first Happy Hour at KEA ‘s new offices. Coffee Roboto, the business  of Michal and Young Bennett, provided coffee, sodas, and treats to make for a delicious  educational experience.

Friends of the Clearwater, founded in 1987, is based in Moscow, but works for sound public policy rooted in science with citizen involvement. They work on forest, water and wild land and wildlife issues in a rugged region of Idaho stretching from the Washington border to the Montana border and from the headwaters of the Clearwater to the Salmon River.

Lipscomb’s presentation focused on the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service, specifically that agency’s use of M44 Cyanide bombs to kill so-called predator animals.  These lethal devices were made and first used in the 1930s to get rid of coyotes primarily. It was a period when predators were seen as “bad” animals and eradication was the norm.

The device, also known as a coyote-getter, consists of a spring action sodium cyanide ejector that delivers the poison to an animal when it tries to play with or pull up the scented top that sticks above the ground.  It looks like an irrigation head. Once the poison is released, the animal dies with in one to five minutes. The USDA claims it is painless and has no environmental effects.   But between 2003 and 2014, the Wildlife Service reported 166,000 animals died from encounters with the bombs. In a June 17, 2015, Wildlife Service document that Lipscomb showed, the animals killed included badgers, bobcats, deer, a golden eagle, crow, raven, foxes, opposum and more, as well as the targeted coyotes.

The agency is supposed to post signs within 25 feet of a device and check on them weekly. But children can’t always read or understand the danger. It is not clear if these regulations are adhered to properly.

Three recent incidents have brought M44 Cyanide Bomb use to the public’s attention. In February 2017, a gray wolf from the Shamrock Pack was killed on private land in Oregon.  Governor Kate Smith responded by asking for a 1 million dollar cut in funding for “predatory control” use in that state. The next month in March 2017, two dogs were killed during a family hiking day near Casper Wyoming. Closer to home, also in March, in Pocatello, Idaho, a boy named Canyon, saw something he thought was an irrigation head. It was an M44 which ejected cyanide and killed his pet dog. This caused an outcry and the mayor of the city has called for the halt to the manufacture of these devices—because they are made in Pocatello.

Following these incidents, nineteen groups have formed a coalition and formally petitioned the USDA Wildlife Service for an immediate ban on M44 bombs in Idaho. In addition, it has been years since USDA programs have been analyzed under Environmental Impact Statement criteria. Some groups are working on this angle. In April of this year the Idaho Regional Director of the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) and Wildlife Service issued a letter stating that a 30 day notice must be issued before placing an M44 bomb. But this is temporary, not a full ban.

The audience had some good questions including what the costs of buying and placing the bombs might be? If the M44s are finally banned, will the ones now in place be retrieved to ensure safety? What can people do now?

Peter De Fazio of Oregon has introduced HR1817 “The Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017, which would ban M44 Cyanide bombs and Compound 1080, another type of poison. Lipscomb suggested people encourage their legislators in Washington to support this bill.