The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into the poisoning four years ago of a Vernal man who touched what he thought was a survey stake, only to get a blast of sodium cyanide to his face and chest.
The cyanide device, called an M-44, is used by the federal government to kill predators. The poisoning has left Dennis Slaugh with severe health problems, his wife, Dorothy Slaugh, said Thursday.
And it has reignited a campaign to ban all predator poisoning on federal lands.
EPA investigator Michael Burgin visited the Slaugh home Monday for a two-hour meeting, which Slaugh said she taped with Burgin’s knowledge. The special investigator was looking into why federal agencies did not follow up on the Slaughs’ original reports, she said.
Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon pushed for the investigation at the request of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group based in Eugene, Ore.
“He has been a really good ally trying to get these weapons banned permanently so no one will have to suffer the way my husband has suffered,” Slaugh said of DeFazio.
Dennis Slaugh and his brother were riding all-terrain vehicles on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Cowboy Canyon near Bonanza in 2003 when Slaugh noticed what he thought was a survey stake. He reached to brush it off and it fell over. When he picked it up, it exploded, sending a cloud ofgranules into his nose, mouth and eyes.
The M-44 device was spring-loaded to shoot poison into a predator’s mouth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program is the only agency allowed to use the M-44 to poison coyotes and dogs to prevent livestock loss.
But when the Slaughs told the USDA and the BLM about their experience, the agencies denied responsibility and eventually informed them the statute of limitations on the family’s claims had run out.
“We were just asking for compensation. We’ve got medical bills. They just flat denied everything,” Dorothy Slaugh said.
On Monday, she said, Burgin told her that time on the claim would run out in May.
Cyanide clings to iron in the blood system and slowly depletes the heart and other muscles of oxygen.
Dennis Slaugh, 65, has extremely high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, vomits almost daily and can no longer work as a Caterpillar D8 driver for Uintah County because he is too weak to climb up into the machine’s rungs.
The couple, avid ATV riders and campers, have owned Mountain High Power Sports in Vernal for 35 years. “We’re fine, we’re OK. It’s just taken a lot out of him,” Dorothy Slaugh said.
Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, said his organization started the push to ban all predator poisoning on federal lands in 1994, when a woman was poisoned while trying to resuscitate her dog after the animal bit an M-44 a USDA employee had set on her private property at the request of a tenant farmer.
DeFazio has been an ally since then, Fahy said.
In late November, DeFazio prodded the EPA with a letter that Fahy said was “instrumental” in finally getting federal action on the Slaughs’ claim.
The congressman is sponsoring a bill in the House to ban all predator poisons.