In response to a lawsuit (PDF) brought last year by four conservation and animal welfare groups, a Montana federal court today approved a settlement providing a deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze impacts to endangered wildlife from two deadly pesticides used to kill coyotes and other native carnivores.
“This win for endangered wildlife should also help protect people and pets from these poisons,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal government needs to ban these deadly pesticides, but until then we’re hopeful the analysis spurred by our lawsuit will lead to common-sense measures to prevent unintended deaths.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has registered the pesticides at issue (sodium cyanide and Compound 1080) for use by Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife-killing program. Sodium cyanide can also be used by certain state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas. In 2011, the EPA began, but never finished, an analysis with the Fish and Wildlife Service on how the poisons affect threatened and endangered species.
The settlement approved today compels completion of that stalled process, with the Fish and Wildlife Service finalizing a “biological opinion” by December 31, 2021. That analysis should lead to mitigation measures to protect imperiled wildlife, such as restrictions on use in areas where rare wildlife lives.
“Deadly, indiscriminate cyanide bombs and compound 1080 have littered our public lands for far too long,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We are hopeful the Service will revoke or significantly restrict use of these poisons given recent and past tragedies highlighting the inherent danger they pose to people, imperiled species and our companion animals.”
M-44s (also known as “cyanide bombs”) propel one gram of sodium cyanide into the mouths of animals lured by a smelly bait. Compound 1080 is used in a handful of states in “livestock protection collars” strapped onto the necks of sheep and goats. The collars contain bladders filled with liquid poison intended to kill coyotes.
These pesticides pose a high risk for endangered animals such as grizzly bears, Canada lynx and wolves that are capable of triggering the devices. Secondary exposure through Compound 1080-poisoned carcasses can also kill imperiled scavengers like California condors and bald eagles. In February of 2017, an M-44 killed a wolf in Oregon.
According to Wildlife Services’ data, their cyanide bombs killed 13,530 animals, mostly coyotes and foxes, in 2016 alone. These deaths included 321 nontarget animals, including foxes, a black bear, opossums, raccoons, skunks, a fisher and family dogs. An interactive map shows how many nontarget animals of each species died from exposure to M-44 cyanide bombs between 2010 and 2016. These numbers are likely a significant undercount of the true death toll, as Wildlife Services is notorious for poor data collection and a “shoot, shovel and shut up” mentality.
M-44s are also dangerous for people and companion animals. M-44s last year temporarily blinded a child and killed three family dogs in two separate incidents in Idaho and Wyoming.
“Today’s victory will force the government to take a long-overdue look at the collateral damage caused by these inhumane, indiscriminate chemicals,” said Anna Frostic, senior wildlife attorney at the Humane Society of the United States. “The risk they pose to nontarget wildlife and companion animals is simply unacceptable.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, the Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals brought the successful suit.