US expands review of cyanide predator traps after boy hurt

Keith Ridler
Associated Press
This March 16, 2017, file photo released by the Bannock County Sheriff's Office shows a cyanide device in Pocatello, ID. U.S. officials are launching an expanded review of predator-killing cyanide traps and additional guidelines for workers deploying the devices after one sickened a young boy in Idaho and killed his dog.

BOISE, ID (AP) - U.S. officials are launching an expanded review of predator-killing cyanide traps and additional guidelines for workers deploying the devices after one sickened a young boy in Idaho and killed his dog.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the review should be finished this fall and workers, meanwhile, will follow interim guidelines issued in a 13-page directive intended to make sure anyone near a device is alerted.

The spring-activated devices called M-44s look like water sprinkler heads embedded in the ground but spray cyanide when triggered by animals attracted by bait. They're used to kill coyotes and other livestock predators, mostly in Western U.S. states.

They have come under scrutiny after one of the devices in March injured a 14-year-old Idaho boy and killed his dog when they encountered it on federally-owned land about 500 yards (457 meters) from his home. The scrutiny intensified after The Associated Press reported the device was on public land despite a decision months earlier by federal officials to halt use of the devices on all U.S.-owned land in Idaho.

The federal agency in a Thursday statement said it's "committed to the safe and responsible use of these devices, and the new guidance and expanded analysis are intended to reduce risks when using the M-44 device."

The federal agency in April said it stopped using the devices on all land in Idaho following a petition filed by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity. The petition said M-44s killed about 12,500 coyotes in 2016, mostly in Western U.S. states. According to the petition, the devices over the last 20 years have killed about 40 dogs and injured a handful of people.

Environmental groups filed a similar petition earlier this week seeking to ban the devices in Wyoming.

Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney for the center, said the center is glad the Agriculture Department is taking concerns about M-44s seriously but the only solution is a total ban.
"As long as these are on our lands, people and pets and non-targeted wildlife are still going to be at risk," she said.

In March, an M-44 killed a wolf in northeastern Oregon, a species protected in that area by that state's wolf plan.

The new guidelines issued Thursday require federal workers to notify nearby residents of the placement of M-44s "in a manner that ensures that the message was delivered and receipt acknowledged."

The guidelines also put more responsibility on state directors and subordinate supervisors to make sure the devices are used and placed properly, with an increased emphasis on identifying property boundaries.

The device that injured the Idaho boy near the small city of Pocatello was placed on federal public land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management even though the Agriculture Department did not have permission to place M-44s on BLM land.
The Agriculture Department says the devices are needed to reduce predators.

The agency said that a 2015 survey of producers determined that coyotes nationwide killed about 120,000 sheep and lambs valued at up to $20 million. The cyanide devices are also used to protect cattle.

Cameron Mulrony, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association, didn't return a call from The Associated Press.

John Freemuth, a Boise State University environmental policy professor and public lands expert, said it has been a tradition in Western U.S. states for more than a century for the government to protect livestock from predators, and a review of M-44 policies is itself notable.

"They may have realized they have a public relations problem more than they have in the past" he said, noting that agriculture interests remain powerful. "The idea of a review is a good thing. Whether that leads to a different policy on how we deal with predators that cause harm to livestock remains to be seen."