WASHINGTON— This week marks the fifth anniversary of an Idaho teen nearly being fatally poisoned by an M-44, commonly known as a “cyanide bomb.” The incident received worldwide media coverage and spurred federal and state efforts to ban these wildlife-killing devices.
M-44s are sodium cyanide predator-control devices that are baited to attract coyotes. In reality they attract many other victims. When triggered the devices eject sodium cyanide into the mouth and face, up to five feet in the air. They kill thousands of animals inhumanely every year, including endangered species and family pets; they’ve injured several people and pose a grave danger to children.
In the Pocatello, Idaho incident on March 16, 2017, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking his dog on a hill behind his home when he encountered an M-44 and triggered it, thinking it was a sprinkler head. The device spewed toxic orange cyanide powder that injured Canyon and killed his dog in front of him. Since the accident, Canyon and his family have traveled the country sharing their story and urging bans on M-44s.
“Working side by side with the Mansfield family since their tragedy, as well as with other M-44 victims for over 30 years, I have witnessed the pain and loss these indiscriminate devices inflict,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group. “Since M-44s can never be used safely, they must be banned. This is not a partisan issue. It’s a public safety issue.”
Since the Pocatello poisoning, several states have enacted restrictions on M-44 devices. In Oregon a statewide ban on M-44s went into effect in 2020. Court victories led to temporary restrictions in Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho; state pesticide regulators in Arizona prohibited use of M-44s on public lands, and none have been used on private lands in the past five years.
But the Environmental Protection Agency — the federal entity charged with regulating pesticides such as the sodium cyanide used in M-44s — has refused to enact a nationwide prohibition on the devices, despite a petition from multiple conservation groups seeking such a ban and overwhelming public opposition to their use.
Currently the EPA allows Wildlife Services, the animal-killing program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to use M-44s and authorizes their use by several state agencies. In total 13 states still allow some use of M-44s: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
A bill known as “Canyon’s Law,” introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), seeks to ban the use of M-44s on federal public lands. The bill has yet to receive a hearing.
“It’s outrageous that state and federal governments continue to use cyanide bombs to spew poison and kill wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As the incident involving Canyon Mansfield and his dog shows, these devices are indiscriminate killers. They’re too dangerous to be used anywhere on our public lands.”
“M-44 cyanide ejectors jeopardize animals and people alike, and a nationwide ban is long overdue,” said Carson Barylak, campaigns manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “The Mansfield family has shown immense courage in sharing their heartbreaking experience, and by supporting Canyon’s Law, members of Congress can help to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
“In the five years since this horrible incident, Wildlife Services’ continued use of chemical poisons shows a blatant unwillingness to transition to safer, publicly acceptable, and scientifically sound, nonlethal methods,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “It also demonstrates a cruel indifference to the dangers posed to people and pets, such as Canyon and Kasey. We urge Congress to hold a hearing on Canyon’s Law and swiftly move this legislation forward.”
“Five years later, the Idaho statewide moratorium on M-44 cyanide bombs is still holding, thanks to our lawsuit settlement,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “These chemical weapons are still legal in many parts of the West, posing a deadly hazard to people, pets and nontarget wildlife. The federal government should ban them nationwide, and make public lands safer for the public.”
According to the most recent data available from Wildlife Services, the program poisoned 7,691 animals in 2020 using M-44 cyanide bombs. More than 200 of these animals were killed unintentionally, including a black bear, five dogs and dozens of foxes. The program’s use of M-44s has declined slightly since 2019, when it used M-44s to kill 8,200 animals. But the number of deaths is significantly underreported, according to whistleblowers.
In December 2021 the EPA banned the use of M-44s in areas where at-risk endangered wildlife live unless mitigation measures are used to avoid exposing them to the devices. That ban came in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and its partners, resulting in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreeing to work with the EPA to analyze impacts on endangered wildlife from the use of M-44s.