Energy & Environment

EPA walks back use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock from wild animals

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is backtracking on a controversial proposal to allow the use of cyanide bombs to kill wild animals in an effort to protect livestock.

EPA officials had made the change in a recent interim decision, authorizing the use of M-44 chemical trap devices to manage populations of coyotes, foxes and other wild animals. 

But the decision last week immediately lead to an outcry from environmental groups who called it inhumane. They also said it can be risky for humans and cause injury.

"This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals." 

As a matter of safety, the EPA said it only uses the M-44 devices "on or within 7 miles of a ranch unit or allotment where losses due to predation by wild canids are occurring." The devices are required to be removed if there is no evidence they are working.

In 2017, the traps reportedly temporarily blinded a child and killed three family dogs in Idaho and Wyoming, as well as killing a wolf in Oregon, which has since banned the use of M-44 devices in the state.

The EPA has since added new restrictions, but many argue the cyanide bombs cannot be used safely. 

"Cyanide traps can't be used safely by anyone, anywhere," Collette Adkins, the director of carnivore conservation at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement when the directive for the traps became public. "While the EPA added some restrictions, these deadly devices have caused too much harm to remain in use. We need a permanent nationwide ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison."