Trump administration re-reauthorizes wildlife-killing M-44 ‘cyanide bombs’

Brian Sweeney
Western Environmental Law Center.
Thursday, December 12, 2019

Guest Commentary

After withdrawing an interim decision instituting minor restrictions on the use of sodium cyanide in wildlife-killing devices called M-44s, or “cyanide bombs,” the Trump administration today reissued a revised decision with slight modifications further restricting the use of sodium cyanide to kill wildlife.

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has now, again, approved cyanide bomb use on public lands even though they inhumanely and indiscriminately kill thousands of animals every year and have a history of severely injuring people.

• In the original decision, cya- nide bombs could not be placed within 50 feet of a public road or pathway, including trails. The withdrawn decision increased that to 100 feet, and the revised decision increased that to 300 feet.

• The withdrawn decision stip- ulated that an elevated warning sign must be placed within 15 feet of each device, decreased from 25 feet. The revised decision requires two such signs instead of just one.

• Lastly, the withdrawn deci- sion required notification for people living within a half-mile of a cyanide bomb. The revised decision retains that notification requirement, but now mandates a 600-foot buffer around residences where cyanide bombs are prohibited without homeowner permission.

 Earlier this year, the EPA issued a proposed interim decision renewing sodium cyanide registration and opened a public comment period. More than 99.9 percent of comments urged the EPA to ban M-44s, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity and West- ern Environmental Law Center.

 None of the restrictions will prevent killing of nontarget wildlife, however.

“While it is encouraging that the EPA is taking at least some minimal action to protect the public from deadly M-44s, updating a few use restrictions –– nearly impossible to enforce and commonly ignored –– fails to meaningfully address the problem,” said Kelly Nokes, Shared Earth wildlife attorney with the Western Environmental

Law Center. “EPA is blatantly

ignoring its fundamental duty to protect the public, our pets, and native wildlife from the cruel, lethal impacts of cyanide bombs lurking on our public lands. We will continue to hold our federal government accountable to the law, and will continue our fight for a ban on M-44s once and for all.”

“This appalling decision leaves cyanide traps lurking in our wild places to threaten people, pets and imperiled animals,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA imposed a few minor restrictions, but these deadly devices have just wreaked too much havoc to remain in use. To truly protect humans and wildlife from these poisonous contraptions, we need a nationwide ban.”

 “Tightening up use restrictions is turning a blind eye to the reality of M-44s,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Pred-

ator Defense. “In my 25 years working with M-44 victims I’ve learned that Wildlife Services’

agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions.  And warning signs will not prevent more dogs, wild animals and potentially children from being killed. They cannot read them. M-44s are a safety menace and must be banned.”

 “We are deeply disappointed in EPA’s decision to allow for the continued use of M-44s and the agency’s willingness to ignore glaring threats to the health and safety of people, wildlife and ecosystems across the U.S.,” said Carson Barylak, campaigns manager at the Inter- national Fund for Animal Wel- fare (IFAW). “This decision is inconsistent with EPA’s mission and the intent of our pesticide laws, and it all but ensures that tragic encounters with these deadly devices will continue.”

 “We raised serious concerns that were enough to invoke a response from the EPA--that response was totally inadequate,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “These bombs will continue to indiscriminately kill native wildlife and threaten people and pets until their use is discontinued entirely.”

 “Since the 1970s, M-44 devices have killed over 10,000 non-target animals, including dogs, bald eagles, marmots, hawks, black bears, wolves, mountain lions and bobcats,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Wel- fare Institute. “Animals who are victims of these devices suffer horribly prior to death. The additional use restrictions that EPA has proposed will do nothing to reduce the number of animals that are unintentionally killed by these devices.”

 According to Wildlife Ser- vices’ own data, M-44s killed 6,579 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes, in 2018, down from 13,232 animals in 2017. Of these, more than 200 deaths were nontarget animals, including foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks and a bear. These numbers probably significantly under-estimate the true death toll since Wildlife Services is notorious for poor data collection and an entrenched “shoot, shovel, shut up” mentality.


The devices spray deadly sodium cyanide into the mouths of unsuspecting coyotes, foxes and other carnivores lured by smelly bait. Anything or anyone that pulls on the baited M-44 device can be killed or severely injured by the deadly spray.

In response to a 2017 law- suit brought by the Center and its allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to analyze impacts of M-44s on endangered wildlife by the end of 2021. Another 2017 lawsuit by wildlife advocates prompted Wildlife Services in Colorado to temporarily halt the use of M-44s while it completes a new environmental analysis on its wildlife-killing program.

Last year, EPA denied a 2017 petition authored by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians that asked for a nationwide ban on M-44s.

M-44s temporarily blinded a child and killed three family dogs in two incidents in Idaho and Wyoming in 2017. A wolf was also accidentally killed by an M-44 set in Oregon that year. In response, Idaho instituted an ongoing moratorium on M-44 use on public lands, and Oregon this year passed legislation banning them in the state.  

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