EPA refuses to ban coyote-killing poison traps

The sodium cyanide bombs are deployed to kill livestock predators, but opponents claim that the traps are inhumane and have many unintended victims — including pets and endangered species.

Wolves are also targeted by trapping. Image credits: Mark Kent.

Arguments between farmers and environmentalists are nothing new. Finding the balance between protecting farmers and their work and ensuring environmental sustainability is always a challenging issue. A new episode of this saga recently unfolded as the EPA ruled that trappers can still use cyanide traps “to ensure there are safe and effective tools for farmers and ranchers to protect livestock.”

Few would argue that the sodium cyanide bombs are humane, but they have proven effective at killing coyotes — and other wildlife as well. The M44 devices have killed 12,511 coyotes in 2016 alone, accounting for 16% of all coyote killings. But they kill indiscriminately — they’re cyanide traps, it doesn’t matter what’s triggering them. So indiscriminate that, in fact, Australia is using them to control wild dogs and foxes.

The traps are designed to eject fatal sodium cyanide whenever an animal stops to inspect them. They are often covered with smelly bait to draw in unsuspecting animals (most commonly, livestock-threatening animals). But the plan doesn’t always work. In 2017, one device severely injured a 14-year-old boy from Idaho, killing his pet labrador. Last year, out of the 6,579 animals with the devices last year, more than 200 were non-targeted creatures — including pets and bears.

“You’re out hiking with your dogs and your children, and you come across these, you have to be lucky enough to see one of these signs,” said Collette Adkins, conservation manager at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization. Any dog “that’s running around is going to get killed.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation advocacy groups had sought a ban on the devices. They say that the devices are unsafe and that the vast majority of the population is against their usage. Virtually everyone except the ranchers is against the cyanide traps, they argue.

Nevertheless, the EPA rejected a proposal for a ban and has allowed the continued use of the traps. There are a few new restrictions, but this has done little to satisfy those who feel that these devices are dangerous.

The motivation for the decision was that without them, producers of sheep, goats, and cattle would likely incur higher costs and/or more livestock loss.

Is this worth the risk posed to other wildlife? The EPA thinks yes, but it’s a conclusion many are not buying.

“This appalling decision leaves cyanide traps lurking in the wild to threaten people, pets and imperiled animals,” added Adkins. “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.”

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