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BLM bans “cyanide bombs” designed to control predators

A small "cyanide bomb" is planted into a field of green grass.
Courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity
“Cyanide bombs” are small and often indiscriminate.

News brief:

The Bureau of Land Management recently announced that it will no longer allow the use of “cyanide bombs” on its lands. The M-44 devices are often used to protect livestock from animals like foxes or coyotes.

Several environmental groups lauded the decision, saying it makes public spaces safer for people and animals.

“Cyanide bombs” are baited, spring-loaded traps that release deadly poison into the air when triggered. Wildlife agents – often from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – usually set them to control predators, especially in remote areas.

M-44s killed more than 5,000 animals last year, according to the USDA, and were deployed in 10 states, including Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Colette Adkins, Carnivore Conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the devices are dangerous because of their indiscriminate nature.

“Anything that tugs on the spring-loaded device will be sprayed with this deadly poison, whether it's a kid, an endangered species or a target animal like a coyote. They really are just too dangerous to be used in public places,” she said.

This issue made national headlines in 2017 when a “cyanide bomb” killed a family pet and injured a boy in Idaho. Since then, several groups have been petitioning to end the use of M-44s on public lands.

With the BLM’s move, the devices are now banned from all lands administered by the U.S. Interior Department. Still, M-44s are allowed on U.S. Forest Service lands and in some states.

Adkins said wildlife agents shouldn’t deploy them on any public lands. “Cyanide bombs” caused more than 150 “unintentional” animal deaths last year, according to the USDA.

“It really is outrageous that they're still being used,” she said. “We just can't wait for another tragedy to occur before the Forest Service finally does the right thing, too.”

Adkins said livestock producers have other tools for predator control at their disposal. That includes increasing the human presence near herds and removing carcasses from grazing areas.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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