Dog’s Death Spotlights Use of Cyanide ‘Bombs’ to Kill Predators

 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/wildlife-watch-wildlife-services-cyanide-idaho-predator-control/

One of the weapons the U.S. government uses to poison predators killed a pet Labrador in Idaho, sparking new calls to ban the devices.

Fourteen-year-old Canyon Mansfield was out walking the family Labrador, Casey, on public land in the outskirts of Pocatello, Idaho, last month. As they roamed a hill near their home, Canyon spied a piece of metal protruding from the snowy ground that resembled the head of a garden sprinkler. When he bent down to touch it, the device exploded, jolting him off his feet and emitting a powdery substance. Some of the granules got into his eyes, which he scrubbed out with wet snow.

The bulk of the substance blew downwind into Casey’s face. Within a minute the dog was writhing with convulsions, a reddish foam emanating from his mouth. In front of Canyon, the yellow Lab made guttural sounds then went still.

Heeding the cries for help, Canyon’s parents, Theresa and Mark Mansfield, rushed to the scene. Theresa cradled the dog while Mark, a family physician, administered chest compressions. He was about to try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when Canyon shouted, “Don’t do it, Dad, I think Casey’s been poisoned.”

All three of them had some of the residue on their skin and clothes. Only by luck did it not get into their mucous membranes, and only later did they learn that this wasn’t just any poison. It was sodium cyanide—a federal Category One toxicant and one of the deadliest substances on Earth.

“When it went off, I was so confused because it caught me by surprise and happened so fast,” Canyon said. “I panicked because the next thing I knew Casey was dying.” Since the incident Canyon has been suffering from headaches, a telltale symptom of exposure to cyanide.

Sodium cyanide is considered by the Department of Homeland Security to be a potential weapon for terrorists. It’s a key ingredient in the M-44s, or “cyanide bombs,” used by Wildlife Services, an obscure agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to kill wildlife predators on public and private lands in the West.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an average of 30,000 M-44s, deployed by the federal government in concert with Western states and counties, are triggered each year. Baited to entice animals, they’re indiscriminate in their victims. So far, no humans have been killed by M-44s. But according to an investigation by theSacramento Bee, 18 Wildlife Services employees and several other people were exposed to cyanide by M-44s between 1987 and 2012, and between 2000 and 2012 the devices killed more than 1,100 dogs.

Established 120 years ago under a different name, Wildlife Services exists primarily for the benefit of the livestock industry. The agency spends more than $120 million a year killing animals deemed “nuisances” to humans: everything from coyotes and wolves to mountain lions, bears, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs, and birds (in part to prevent collisions with planes at airports). During the past decade the agency has killed some 35 million animals. It killed 2.7 million in 2016 alone.

In recent disclosure forms Wildlife Services reported that out of 76,963 coyotes killed in 2016 for livestock protection, 12,511 were felled with M-44s. Another 30,000 were gunned down by sharpshooters from fixed-wing planes and helicopters, and 15,000 more died in choking neck snares.

WILDLIFE SERVICES ADHERES TO A MIND-SET BETTER SUITED TO ROGUE COWBOY CULTURE OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

PETER DEFAZIO U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

“Predators are a problem [for ranchers], and some of the predators are a problem for game animals,” says John Peavey, a longtime rancher near Carey, Idaho, who has battled coyotes and wolves getting into his cattle herds and sheep flocks. “These devices [M-44s], ugly as they are, are important. They should be highly supervised. They should not be set close to places where people recreate. But they are a tool, especially if properly used.”

While Peavey has sympathy for the Mansfields, he says the press has a fascination with writing only about the predator controversies and poisons when the real issue is maintaining the condition of Western rangelands. He believes some anti-livestock activists are using the poison issue to renew calls for prohibiting cattle and sheep from grazing on public lands.

For decades, however, environmentalists, animal welfare advocates, and some politicians have pushed for Wildlife Services to be radically reformed—if not abolished—arguing that it’s an anachronism.

“Wildlife Services, with much of what it does, adheres to a mind-set better suited to rogue cowboy culture of the 19th century, and it’s just not consistent anymore with modern values,” U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, told National Geographic by phone last week. Over the years DeFazio has pressed for investigations into Wildlife Services related to alleged animal cruelty, budget irregularities, illegal use of toxic chemicals, and convoluted statistics as to how many animals it actually destroys. “It’s an agency that lacks transparency and accountability, and I believe it’s out of control,” De Fazio said.

In a documentary titled, EXPOSED: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife, former agency trappers corroborate that assertion.

DeFazio said the agency has managed to dodge significant oversight in Congress because of resistance from lawmakers, primarily in the West, who say that lethal removal of predators is essential to protecting the livelihoods of ranchers grazing cattle and sheep on public and private lands.

INCIDENT UNDER REVIEW

Following Casey’s death, Wildlife Services has been mostly silent.

In response to repeated phone calls from National Geographic to offices at local, regional, and national levels, its Washington, D.C., communications office issued the same written statement it circulated on March 17 and has made no further comment since. The statement noted that the incident was under review, that procedures are designed to minimize unintentional run-ins with pets, that precautions were taken and signs put up as warnings, and that such accidents are rare, this being the first in Idaho involving M-44s since 2014.

Dan Argyle, a captain in the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office, told National Geographic that no warning signs were observed at the scene and that a second M-44 had been positioned nearby, then removed by the trapper who put it there.

“As a program made up of individual employees, many of whom are pet owners, Wildlife Services understands the close bonds between people and their pets and sincerely regrets such losses,” the Wildlife Services statement says. “We are grateful that the individual who was with his dog when it activated the M-44 device was unharmed, however, we take this possible exposure to sodium cyanide seriously and are conducting a thorough review of this inPHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THERESA MANSFIELD

The statement concluded: “Wildlife Services provides expert federal leadership to responsibly manage one of our nation’s most precious resources—our wildlife. We seek to resolve conflict between people and wildlife in the safest and most humane ways possible, with the least negative consequences to wildlife overall. Our staff is composed of highly skilled wildlife professionals who are passionate about their work to preserve the health and safety of people and wildlife.”

On its website, Wildlife Services describes the way M-44s work: “The M-44 device is triggered when a canid (i.e. coyote or wild dog) tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth. The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal’s mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Unconsciousness, followed by death, is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered. Animals killed by sodium cyanide appear to show no overt signs of distress or pain.”

The Mansfields, incredulous at that description, say their dog suffered an agonizing death.

Sander Orent, a toxicologist in Boulder, Colorado, has for decades been tracking the USDA’s sanctioning of biocides—including a variation of M-44s called “coyote getters,” which also use cyanide, and lethal collars around the necks of sheep filled with deadly sodium fluoroacetate—to control predator populations. Of death by M-44 he said, “You could compare it to the recent sarin gas attack in Syria because the concept of how cyanide kills is similar. It basically suffocates any living being it comes in contact with. It ties up the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. When that dog is gasping for air, it experiences an extremely uncomfortable feeling of panic and desperation, then it convulses and dies. For an animal experiencing it and a person watching it happen, it would be horrifying.”

Orent, who has served as a scientific adviser to conservationists, said that animals as large as horses and cows have died from coming in contact with M-44s. “They’re frickin’ dangerous, especially when baited. It makes me think of war-torn parts of the world where munitions are meant to look attractive to children so they pick them up.”

According to Orent, who said it was incredibly lucky that neither Canyon nor his parents died or were seriously injured, “There’s no compelling scientific justification for these devices. I think it’s awful a society like ours still allows them to be used, because they’re not necessary.”

PREDATOR AND LIVESTOCK DEATHS

The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service publishes an annual report on causes of death for livestock. In most parts of the West, predators rank behind disease, bad weather, and accidents when it comes to livestock deaths.

Predators kill more sheep than cattle, and Idaho ranks in the upper tier of sheep-producing states. In Idaho in 2014 (the most recent year for which numbers are available) predators were blamed for the loss of about 4,600 of the 16,000 lambs and adult sheep that died. (Conservationists dispute the figures.) Most of the losses were lambs taken by coyotes. Predators killed less than one percent of adult sheep. Bad weather, unknown non-predator causes, and lambing problems accounted for most deaths.

The state and federal government pay compensation for livestock killed by wolves, and in some cases Idaho reimburses ranchers for animals taken by mountain lions and black bears. Damages are not paid for kills by coyotes. Payments can range from a couple of hundred dollars for a lamb to a few thousand dollars for a cow.

Consistent statistics are often out of date, and it’s hard to reconcile different numbers presented by various agencies. Ranchers often say predators take more livestock than are officially reported, but some former Wildlife Services trappers, such as Carter Niemeyer, who wrote a memoir titled Wolfer about his career as an animal control specialist, say predator kills are often exaggerated and that statistics put into reports can’t always be trusted.

BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, THE MOST ENDANGERED LAND MAMMAL IN NORTH AMERICA, DEPEND ON PRAIRIE DOGS, POISONED IN THE MILLIONS BY WILDLIFE SERVICES.

Niemeyer was a government trapper for several decades before retiring a few years ago. As a senior Wildlife Services director in Montana, he said that he and the agency trappers who reported to him had serious misgivings about using M-44s. “Trappers didn’t like using them because they’re dangerous and kill indiscriminately,” he said. Even when Niemeyer argued that there were better options for controlling coyotes, the agency’s “clients”—ranchers—would demand that M-44s be deployed against his objections, he said, noting that M-44s can indeed kill other non-target species, including wolves, bears, imperiled wolverines, and Canada lynxes.

“I’ve had half a dozen government trappers tell me that ranchers routinely inflate the number of losses that occur,” said Brooks Fahy, founder of Predator Defense, a conservation organization in Eugene, Oregon, devoted to advancing public understanding of predators. In some cases, he said, they “aren’t suffering losses at all, yet they just want Wildlife Services to come in and prophylactically kill predators whether they’re a problem or not.”

Whatever the actual numbers, one recent study showed that the best science done on predator control reveals that non-lethal methods are more effective than lethal ones at reducing livestock losses. But because strategies such as guard dogs, range riders, flashing lights, fencing, lamb sheds, and trapping and relocating predators can be more expensive, they’re less favored.

“The whole premise for Wildlife Services’s existence is based on a crumbling foundation of misinformation,” asserts Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection manager for the Humane Society of the United States, based in Colorado. “Cattle losses from wild carnivores and feral dogs together amount to 0.23 percent of the entire U.S. cattle inventory. For that reason alone it makes no sense for the federal agents to use chemical warfare on animals.”

On April 4 the Humane Society—along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlife Guardians, and the Fund for Animals—sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, under the domain of the U.S. Department of the Interior Department, has management jurisdiction over endangered species. The lawsuit alleges that the service has failed to consider the impacts of Wildlife Services poisons on protected animals such wolves, grizzly bears, swift foxes, lynxes, raptors, black-footed ferrets, and others. Black-footed ferrets, the most endangered land mammal in North America, depend on a diet of prairie dogs, which have been poisoned in the millions by Wildlife Services. As of April 20, the Fish and Wildlife Service had not responded to the suit.

A FORMER INSIDER’S EXPERIENCE

Sam Sanders, who has a degree in biology from the University of Nevada-Reno, spent seven years, from 2004 to 2011, with Wildlife Services as a trapper and manager in northern Nevada. He called attention, he claims, to alleged violations of the law and protocols, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.

Today Sanders, who resigned from Wildlife Services because he felt the agency wasn’t seriously addressing problems, is an animal control specialist in the private sector. He told National Geographic that he’s regulated more stringently now than he was at Wildlife Services. He still has a few friends at the agency and said that “WS and I compete for a variety of work, including urban work at airports, rural work protecting livestock, and wildlife protection as well. So I’m fairly well informed.”

Contrary to Wildlife Services’ claims of being an industry leader in ethical animal control, Sanders said that not all its agents monitor their equipment (M-44s, leg-hold traps, and snares) in a timely way or post adequate warning signs. With regard to leg-hold traps, Sanders says animals caught in them can linger in pain for a week before they’re put out of their misery.

Sanders doesn’t use M-44s anymore. But, he said, “If you want to control predators, M-44s are effective tools, and there are responsible trappers out there who use them. I know, because I was one of them. But M-44s can be misused, and they have been to the point where stupid things can happen, involving irresponsible management, like the incident in Pocatello.”

And, he added, M-44s are “better from an animal welfare perspective than some of the ready-available alternatives.” People can buy rat poison from hardware stores and pepper it into animal carcasses left as bait for coyotes that can also kill pets and non-target animals. Sanders said he knows of people pouring gasoline into the dens of predators or starting fires that suck all the oxygen out of animal dens, causing death by suffocation. Not long ago he learned of a trapper who claimed to use large treble fishing hooks baited with meat dangling four feet off the ground. Predators reaching for the meat would suffer a gruesome death by choking and hanging.

For those who seek a ban on the use of M-44s, Sanders cautions that “you have to think of unintended consequences. People are going to employ other alternatives and come up with their own,” he said. “Until there’s a better way that solves conflicts between predators and livestock in ranch country, predators are gonna get it one way or another. Just because you ban what you believe is the bad stuff doesn’t mean it will stop the killing.”

IS POCATELLO A TIPPING POINT?

According to Brooks Fahy, public outrage sparked by the death of the Mansfields’ dog represents a tipping point in bringing the kind of scrutiny to bear on Wildlife Services that opponents say has been lacking.

“Wildlife Services has taken a beating for its controversial aerial gunning and gassing of predators, its trapping and snaring, but its use of deadly poisons has been a dirty little secret, especially where it has placed unsuspecting people and their pets in danger,” Fahy said. “This time it can’t run away from the truth.”

The trapper working for the Idaho branch of Wildlife Services mistakenly placed the M-44 that killed Casey on Bureau of Land Management land near the Mansfields’ residential subdivision, despite the agency’s promise last November, following a review of options for dealing with predators, not to use M-44s on public land in Idaho.

“It’s a fact that it was installed on BLM land,” Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen told a reporter in Idaho. “It was about 300 yards from the residence, and there were no posted warning signs at the time this happened. All three of those are violations of the protocol.”

CANYON WILL CARRY THE MEMORY OF WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS FAVORITE DOG FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

THERESA MANFIELD CANYON’S MOTHER

On March 28 Western Watersheds, an advocacy group that monitors effects of livestock grazing on public lands, and 19 other conservation organizations submitted a petition calling on Wildlife Services to end the use of M-44 cyanide bombs in Idaho and retrieve all those now in place in the state.

Wildlife Services complied, ordering three dozen existing M-44s to be removed and temporarily banning use of M-44s in Idaho.

Congressman DeFazio said that doesn’t go far enough and that the ban needs to be applied nationwide. But, he added, at least “Idaho and Wildlife Services are now under a spotlight.” On March 30 DeFazio submitted a House bill, “The Chemical Poison Reduction Act of 2017,” calling for a total ban on M-44s in the name of public health, animal welfare, and national security.

Meanwhile the Bannock County prosecutor’s office is deciding what criminal or misdemeanor charges to bring against Wildlife Services.

Theresa Mansfield told National Geographic that no one from the agency reached out to to express sympathy for the family’s ordeal. She and Canyon went down to the Wildlife Services office in Pocatello and happened to meet the trapper who deployed the M-44.

“When I confronted him face to face, he said, ‘I’m sorry this happened to your son and dog,’ but, really, what else could he do standing in front of an upset mother and her child who could’ve been killed?” Theresa said. “It angers me that no one from Wildlife Services had the decency to reach out. All Wildlife Services did was issue a cut-and-paste statement to the public. I’ve been told they’re unwilling to apologize personally to us because that would be an admission of guilt.”

Fahy said this is consistent with Wildlife Services’ previous responses to other families who lost pets to M-44s or had members get sick by coming in contact with them. “It fits a troubling pattern. In the past Wildlife Services has actually implied that people may seek out M-44s and get their dogs killed so they might sue and collect a huge settlement from the government,” he said. “So their posture is to deny.”

On June 21, 2006, Michael J. Bodenchuk, then the state director of Wildlife Services in Utah, wrote a memo stating why he didn’t want to pay damages to a woman who lost a dog to M-44 poisoning. “I have concerns about the government settling cases with dog owners because it is all too easy for someone to intentionally take a dog into an area posted with signs with the intention of getting the dog killed,” Bodenchuk said.

Theresa and her husband are considering filing a lawsuit against Wildlife Services. They’ve written to President Donald Trump asking him to take action, and they plan to travel to Washington, D.C., in support of DeFazio’s legislation.

Never in their worst dreams, Theresa said, would they have imagined their son becoming a poster child for the need to reform a government agency. For now the couple is focusing on being profoundly grateful that their teenage son is still alive.

“Any time Canyon talks about it, his mood instantly changes,” Theresa said. “He feels responsible for what happened to Casey. He asks, ‘What if I hadn’t touched it? What if I hadn’t gone outside. He questions why he went up that hill, and I tell him that none of this is your fault. Canyon will carry the memory of what happened to his favorite dog for the rest of his life.”

Outrageous Anti-Animal Acts Planned for Alaska

From: HSUS.org

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate chose to turn nightmare into reality for animals living in our nation’s wildlife refuges — federal land in Alaska specifically set aside for them to thrive, not to become targets of inhumane and unsporting killing methods.

By a 52 to 47 party-line vote, Senators voted to repeal a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule forbidding the most outrageous acts:

Black bears being caught in painful snare traps while foraging for food …

Wolf pups being shot point-blank in their dens …

Grizzly bears being chased by plane or helicopter before being shot down by trophy hunters …

All this cruelty and suffering for trophies.

With this heartbreaking vote, Congress enabled 76 million acres of our national wildlife refuges to become killing fields for trappers, baiters and spring trophy hunters.

The politicians in Washington who voted to allow these cruel practices do not represent the views of regular Americans on animal welfare or wildlife conservation. They sided with the special interests who want to kill wolf pups and hibernating grizzly bears for pleasure.

And this is only one of the recent attacks on animals:

  • Congress is trying to cherry-pick wolves from the federal list of endangered species, exposing them to trophy hunting, commercial trapping and hounding.
  • The Department of the Interior will allow millions of birds and other animals to suffer from lead poisoning by reversing an order restricting the use of toxic lead ammunition on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands.
  • Tennessee walking horses are still at risk of having chemicals burned into their skin until the anti-soring rule is unfrozen under the new administration.
  • And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has purged its website of government inspection reports on thousands of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other facilities.

M44 CYANIDE, JUST HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?

http://www.abcfoxmontana.com/story/34977973/m44-cyanide-just-how-dangerous-is-it

Posted: Mar 22, 2017 8:14 PM PDTUpdated: Mar 22, 2017 8:14 PM PDT

M44 cyanide, just how dangerous is it?
BOZEMAN –It’s a tool often used by Montana ranchers to kill livestock predators, but now, an Oregon congressman wants to ban the use of cyanide traps nationwide.

The M44 cyanide trap has been used by the United States government to control pests since the 1930’s. Montana is one of the few states in the country where ranchers, after being certified, can plant their own devices.

But many are questioning the safety and efficacy of the device. The incident in Idaho is not the first time an M44 has injured or killed the wrong target.

According to the USDA, Wildlife Services is authorized to use M44 cyanide capsules to control coyotes, Wild dogs, and red, gray and arctic foxes which are: suspected of preying upon livestock, poultry, or federally designated threatened and endangered species.

However, Brooks Fahy Executive Director of Predator Defense says thousands of animals die from this cyanide poison every year and just in the past week three dogs have died.

Fahy says, “The vast majority of the animals that they are killing like 99.9 percent of the animals they kill have never prayed on livestock.”

The USDA released a statement about the incident that happened a week ago with the boy and dog in Idaho saying, “We take this possible exposure to sodium cyanide seriously and are conducting a thorough review of this incident.  Wildlife services have removed m-44s in that immediate area, and will work to review our operating procedures to determine whether improvements can be made to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences happening in the future.”

Fahy says there are other options trappers can use other than “cyanide bombs.”

“Practice co-existence in other words proper husbandry practices when your sheep are lambing, guard dogs, fencing, and flattery.”

Jarrod Moss, a vet at Creekside Veterinary Hospital here in Bozeman says if your animal comes in contact with cyanide get them to vet as soon as possible and also make sure you protect yourself in the process.

Brooks says, “Humans are at severe risk of absorbing some of that cyanide through their skin so we need to be very careful when handling your animal, I would recommend wrapping your dog or cat in a towel or shirt, limiting your exposure.”

Fahy recalls an incident involving a man in Utah when he came in contact with the poison.

“Who had an M44 go off in his face and hit him in his chest and he got some of it in his face. He’s been disabled ever since, never able to go back to work.”

USDA says that all applicators are required to carry an antidote kit when applying or inspecting M44s and no human fatalities have been associated with wild services use of M44s.

The bill being put forth by Congressman Defazio is set to for a vote next week. We’ll continue to follow that bill as it progresses.

Pet-killing “Cyanide Bomb” Placed Illegally by Wildlife Services

Agency Promised Public in 2016 that it would stop placing them on Public Lands

BOISE, Ida. — The cyanide bomb that recently killed a family dog in Pocatello, Idaho and poisoned his 14-year-old owner violated government assurances that such poison devices would no longer be used to kill predators on federal public lands in Idaho. A 2016 decision by multiple agencies banned the use of these devices, known as “M-44s,” on all federal land in the state.

“The Bannock County sheriff’s department verified by phone with us today that GPS coordinates for the M-44 involved in the incident place the device on Bureau of Land Management land, despite a decision banning the use of these devices on federal public lands,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “It never should have been there at all.”

A plan for killing predators in Idaho on behalf of the ranching industry was signed late last year by the State, federal government, and Native American tribes, all agreeing to discontinue the use of the explosive cyanide devices on public lands. This poison and other toxins, originally banned during the Nixon administration but subsequently reinstated, had been authorized under a national plan that was decades old. Western Watersheds Project and other environmental groups successfully argued that the use of these chemicals for predator control should be reconsidered, which led to Wildlife Services’ decision to reduce their use.

“M-44s and other traps and toxic chemicals that Wildlife Services uses to kill predators are a public safety hazard,” said Talasi Brooks of Advocates for the West.  “If Wildlife Services is putting these devices in places where people recreate or walk their dogs, the public deserves to know about it.”

On other land ownerships, Wildlife Services continues to use cyanide and other poisons at the request of farmers and ranchers to reduce livestock losses. However, these devices are not selective and kill a wide variety of non-target wildlife. Rare species such as lynx, wolverines, and bald eagles, are killed every year. Tragically, the annual list of unintended targets also includes family pets.

“The incredibly dangerous devices kill indiscriminately, and deaths of pets are common,” said Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense. “Unless there are witnesses agencies often don’t record the poisonings. Families are than left to wonder what happened to their dog.”

Last year, agencies spent $99 million in taxpayer dollars to kill 2,744,010 black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, birds, wolves, and other native wildlife species. Almost 77,000 of these animals were coyotes.  Of these, 16% were poisoned by M-44s. There is evidence, however, that killing predators only reduces their numbers temporarily and, in the case of coyotes, may even encourage higher rates of reproduction and dispersal. Non-lethal methods of predator control such as guard animals, loud noises, bright flashing lights, and fencing, may be more successful without the problems associated with lethal control.

“Federal agencies need to stop planting poison land-mines that endanger the public, and asking society to accept cruel and inhumane slaughter of native wildlife simply to subsidize a dwindling livestock industry,” Molvar concluded.

Advocates for the West is a nonprofit environmental law firm that uses law and science to restore streams and watersheds, protect public lands and wildlife, and ensure sustainable communities throughout the American West.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental group dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.

Predator Defense is a nonprofit advocacy group working to protect native predators and end America’s war on wildlife.

AN IDAHO BOY ALMOST BECOMES A CASUALTY OF THE WESTERN WAR WAGED ON PREDATORS.

http://planetjh.com/2017/03/21/the-new-west-the-real-prey/

 

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Most readers here have probably never heard of the notorious “M-44.” It’s not a gun, but rather a different kind of weapon deployed by the U.S. government in its century-old campaign still being waged against wildlife predators.

Verbatim, this is how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s predator-killing bureau, Wildlife Services, describes the function of M-44s: “The M-44 device is triggered when a canid (i.e. coyote or wild dog) tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth. The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal’s mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Unconsciousness, followed by death, is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered. Animals killed by sodium cyanide appear to show no overt signs of distress or pain.”

Repeat that last line again, italics placed here for emphasis: “Animals killed by sodium cyanide appear to show no overt signs of distress or pain.

Should that give us solace?

Only days ago, as 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was playing with his beloved Labrador friend, Casey, in the hills above Pocatello, Idaho, both teenage boy and dog stumbled unsuspectingly upon an M-44-like device that later was described as detonation of a “cyanide bomb.” The encounter killed the family pet that came in contact with cyanide and left Canyon’s clothing covered with chemical residue, prompting the local sheriff to declare him “lucky to be alive.”

Of course, the boys ‘parents are rightfully outraged. Other recent tragic incidents involving M-44s and pets in Wyoming, plus a wolf killed by an M-44 this February in Oregon, and a longer list of additional events that the government calls unfortunate accidents, are refueling public anger over M-44s, prompting Congressman Peter DeFazio-D, Oregon, to renew his push for a total ban.

While Wildlife Services and its cooperating local and state collaborators tout the lethal efficacy of poisoning to death intended prime targets—especially coyotes given that we are now again in the middle of another domestic sheep lambing season in the West—the dangers of M-44s are undeniable, critics say.

Namely, M-44s are menacingly super toxic and non-discriminating; in many cases needlessly used, especially on public land; and hazardous to the health of humans and pets.

Most of all, noted Brooks Fahy, a founder of the organization, Predator Defense, and a national leader in pushing to have M-44s outlawed, their deployment “reflects an archaic mindset carried forward by a federal agency out of touch with 21st century values,” he said.

A few years ago, Predator Defense produced a documentary Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife (viewable free on YouTube), that won a number of awards and even drew praise from legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

“What we desperately need is serious, objective, and transparent oversight of Wildlife Services by Congress but we haven’t had it because of Republican resistance to scrutiny of the agency’s tactics, especially from lawmakers in the rural West,” Fahy asserted. “They don’t want to know the truth; they don’t want their constituents to know the truth. They’re invested in promoting baseless propaganda which reinforces negative generalizations about predators that are just not factual.”

As numerous studies note, predator control may indeed be a culturally engrained tradition in rural corners of the West, but its rationale does not always align with the conclusions of science.  In some places, costly intervention by Wildlife Services has actually made predator conflicts worse and they’ve resulted in the killing of non-target species. In addition, as research makes clear, predators—including wolves, cougars, bears and coyotes—are actually important in helping to slow the spread of diseases in wildlife, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, because predators target sick animals.

Although Wildlife Services insists that M-44s are safe and subject to 26 different “use restrictions” mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (note: some Western federal lawmakers are now working to gut EPA’s role as a regulatory agency), Fahy says the agency and, in particular, state partners and private contractors have checkered records as noted in his film mentioned above.

On the official USDA website, it states that “Wildlife Services personnel place M-44s along game and livestock trails, ridges, fence lines, seldom-used ranch roads, coyote and fox natural travel ways, rendezvous sites, and territorial marking sites/locations. Trained personnel inspect each M-44 at least weekly. Used mostly in the winter and spring, M-44s may be used year-round in some locations. When not in use, they are stored in secured, locked locations.”(Read more: aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/content/printable_version/fs_m44_device.pdf)

Fahy notes the irony that M-44s are “stored in secured, locked locations,” yet as the Mansfield incident points out, they were sloppily deployed in a location that nearly cost a teenager his life.

There are instances, Fahy acknowledged, where depredation of livestock, particularly on private land, can be a problem that must be resolved through lethal removal. But he and others argue that many conflicts on public land can be better resolved through more conscientious sheep and cattle management, vigilant deployment of non-lethal deterrents such as guard dogs, range riders and fladry, especially during calving and lambing seasons, and acknowledgment that the publicly-subsidized grazing of private livestock on public lands is a privilege.

Predator Defense is among several organizations pushing to reform how Wildlife Services does business. Together, they have also sought tighter restrictions on trapping to reduce the number of pets caught in legholds and conibears near towns and reducing the killing of non-target species such as imperiled wolverines and lynx.

“With M-44s, it’s kind of like allowing a person with a loaded Glock to put a gun down on a picnic table in a public park along with a sign that reads, ‘Dangerous, do not touch.’ What would we be thinking if government agencies allowed that to happen?” Fahy said. “M-44s are more dangerous than a gun. You breathe some of this stuff in, and you’re dead.” PJH

Todd Wilkinson has been writing his award-winning New West column for nearly 30 years. It appears weekly in Planet Jackson Hole. He is author of the recent award-winning book, Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399, the Most Famous Grizzly of Greater Yellowstone only available at mangelsen.com/grizzly.

A savage attack on predators

https://www.abqjournal.com/969229/a-savage-attack-on-predators.html

WASHINGTON – In its zeal to repeal, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule forbidding the baiting, trapping and “denning” of bears and wolves in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.The Senate is poised to consider the resolution as soon as next week.

Distilled to its essence, Alaska’s politicians want to reduce bear and wolf populations so hunters will have more moose and caribou to kill. Alaska’s full congressional delegation – Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (all Republicans) – is behind the push.

Arguing for passage of H.J. Res. 69, Young told of entering wolf dens and killing mother and pups back when he worked as a bounty hunter of predators. Presumably, this was intended to impress his fellow legislators, as are his office walls, which are bedecked with animal trophies.

This isn’t an anti-hunting column. I’m on record supporting humane hunting for food, and I recognize that without hunters, many of whom are ardent conservationists, many wetlands would have been drained for commercial development. This is a plea for common sense, compassion and conservation. What are wildlife refuges, after all, if not refuges for wildlife?

The underlying so-called principle behind the resolution is the GOP’s promise to reduce job-killing regulations. While zealous regulation has led to some corporate outsourcing – and responsible tweaks can be made here and there – not one job is protected nor one dime saved by overturning the wildlife agency’s rule.

One could even argue that Young’s move is anti-business. Alaska’s greatest resource second only to oil is tourism. People go to Alaska to hunt but also to visit the parks and see the animals. Watching animals, in fact, brings Alaska more tourism dollars than hunting does, according to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game.

The sheer savagery of what would become lawful if the Senate falls prey to its companion resolution (S.J. Res. 18) should give pause to anyone with a heartbeat.

Hunters could scout grizzlies from the air and then be deposited on the ground to kill them. (Aerial shooting is still forbidden.) They could hunt wolves during denning season, either shooting a mother wolf, thus dooming her babies, or entering the den and killing all, frequently with gas. Hunters could also bait, trap or snare, causing an agonizing death usually exacerbated by freezing temperatures. The traps are steel-jawed. A snare is a wire that wraps around an animal’s neck, then tightens as it pulls away.

These enhanced methods would target animals at their most vulnerable, in other words, and cause maximum suffering for no tenable reason. Moreover, artificially reducing the number of predators winnows down diversity essential to a healthy ecosystem, which can lead to unintended and disastrous consequences.

Of hunters, one must ask: Where is the sportsmanship in all of this? To Young and his like-minded colleagues, such a query is beside the point. Ultimately, they say, this is a states’ rights issue. There it is, the love Republicans can’t quit. In fact, no law grants state land managers authority to overrule federal land managers’ decisions related to federal land – for good reason.

Without the National Park Service, we might have had mining in the Grand Canyon, noted Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (where my son works), in a telephone interview. “Without federal protections, what’s to stop Wyoming from authorizing hunting grizzlies in Yellowstone?

“States’ rights simply don’t apply when you have a federal category of lands authorized by Congress,” he said. “This is really our Serengeti.”

As a humane matter, there’s no defending House Joint Resolution 69. As a regulatory issue, it defies logic. As an economic concern, protecting wildlife from cruel hunting practices makes sense.

Senators should vote to leave the protective rule in place – not only to protect our wildlife from politicians’ predatory practices but also to reassure Americans that the chamber still has a conscience.

Congress Advances Legislation to Kill Wolves, Bears in Alaska — Bill Would Repeal Protections on National Wildlife Refuges

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2017/predators-02-16-2017.php

For Immediate Release, February 16, 2017

Bill Would Repeal Protections on National Wildlife RefugesCongress Advances Legislation to Kill Wolves, Bears in Alaska

WASHINGTON— The House of Representatives today used the Congressional Review Act to strip away protections implemented during the Obama administration for wolves, bears and other predators on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. By eliminating these protections, the House measure greenlights killing wolves and their pups in their dens and allows bears to be gunned down at bait stations.

“Rolling back protections for predators defies everything wildlife refuges stand for,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Refuges are places where we celebrate biological diversity, not where wolves and bears are inhumanely killed for no good reason. It’s an outrage that Congress would revoke rules that stop the senseless slaughter of predators, heedless of the important role these animals play in healthy ecosystems.”

In August 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized regulations that protected predators from new predator-control tactics approved by Alaska’s Board of Game. These tactics include killing black bear cubs or mother with cubs at den sites; killing brown bears over bait; trapping and killing brown and black bears with steel-jaw leghold traps or wire snares; killing wolves and coyotes during denning season; and killing brown and black bears from aircraft.

Alaska’s predator control activities are intended solely to artificially inflate prey populations, such as moose, for human hunting. House Joint Resolution 69, citing authority under the Congressional Review Act, would undo all those protections.

“This action is yet another extremist assault on the environment by certain members of Congress,” Jeffers said. “This bill has no scientific support and would dismantle rules that ensure wildlife refuges help conserve our natural heritage for future generations. We will do everything in our power to fight this mean-spirited attack on these magnificent animals and stop it from becoming law.”

The Service’s predator-protection regulations are also under attack from the state of Alaska, which is challenging the regulations in federal court. The Center and its allies have intervened on behalf of the Service to defend the challenged regulations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Excerpt: Letter from Predator Defense on the slaughter of the Profanity Peak pack

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

The Profanity Peak wolf pack was wrongfully slaughtered. They were set up for the kill. The rancher, a known wolf-hater, put his cattle to graze on pristine, forested public land in the core of the pack’s territory. His cattle, of course, displaced the wolves’ normal prey–elk and deer. The cattle then became prey. The rancher did not use anywhere close to an adequate level of nonlethal deterrents to prevent predation. He also put salt blocks near the pack’s den, according to WDFW, which drew the cattle right to the wolves. And so, the wolves predated on the cattle.

After this WDFW’s Wolf Policy Lead had the gall to state in a TV interview: “Is that really the wolf population we want to repopulate the state? Wolves that have demonstrated that behavior and see livestock as prey items.” In other words, wolves being wolves (let alone being set up!) and doing the job nature gave them as apex predators should not be themselves?!

So WDFW has now killed at least 6 of the 11-member pack and is actively trying to kill the rest. This situation is an outrage! The slaughter of the Profanity Peak Pack must be stopped. And cattle should cease being placed in wolves’ territory unless truly adequate nonlethal control methods are in use. There are also areas where it is inappropriate to have livestock, and this is surely one of them.

Brooks Fahy
Executive Director, Predator Defense
http://www.predatordefense.org

Big Cat Advocates Oppose Plan To Kill Cougars

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 http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20151008/news-briefs/big-cat-advocates-oppose-plan-kill-cougars

Oregon’s 2016 big-game hunting regulations will be on the agenda when the Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in Florence Oct. 8 and 9.

Specifically the commission will discuss opening up target areas where “cougar numbers will be proactively reduced in response to established criteria” for cougar conflicts with humans, livestock or other game animals such as mule deer.

There were no target areas in 2014 and 2015, but the commission is proposing to open up four areas in 2016. One of them is to reduce livestock and safety conflicts, two are for improving mule deer populations and the fourth is for mule deer and bighorn sheep.

Cougar advocates want the state to know that “the people of Oregon want cougars well managed and not killed en masse because of ill-conceived schemes that have no scientific validity,” as Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States, puts it.

In a call to Facebook followers to come and testify on Oct. 9, the group Predator Defense compares cougars to Cecil, the African lion killed by an American hunter, saying, “America’s mountain lions are experiencing the same fate as Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous and beloved lion, illegally killed in July by a Minnesota dentist on a trophy hunt.” The group continues, “But what’s happening here is even worse — the slaughter is legal and being carried out by government agents on behalf of deer hunters.”

Beckstead of HSUS tells EW, “The policy of treating wild ungulates like free-roaming livestock to be ‘harvested’ and wild carnivores as vermin to be exterminated is an archaic approach to wildlife management that ignores the evolving humane values of most Oregonians.” He points out that voters have opposed twice allowing recreational hunters to use hounds to hunt cougars in 1994 and 1996.

According to the commission’s agenda information, depending on the area, the cougar killing would be carried out by volunteer agents, federal Wildlife Services and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at an annual cost of almost $70,000 to remove 95 cougars. Sally Mackler, native carnivore advocate for Predator Defense, says “federal agents from the USDA’s Wildlife Services and local houndsmen deputized by ODFW are immune from state law banning use of hounds by trophy hunters.”

Beckstead says that “using packs of radio-collared trailing hounds and neck snares to indiscriminately kill Oregon cougars” in the target zones “under the guise of protecting mule deer and reducing conflicts with humans and livestock is just poor wildlife management, not scientifically valid.”

Mackler adds, “Science shows that cougar predation is a minor influence on mule deer population, and the main reasons for decline are habitat, nutritional quality of and access to forage.”

The groups are calling for a stop to “indiscriminate killing” and for the use of up-to-date science on the big cats, especially in light of the fact that Oregon’s management plan for cougars is due to be revised and updated next year. “Cougars should be conserved for all, not just managed for a few trophy hunters,” Predator Defense, HSUS and 10 other groups say in their comments to the ODFW commission.

Those who wish to testify about the plan can go to the 8 am meeting at the Driftwood Shores Resort, Pacific Room, 2nd floor, 88416 1st Ave. in Florence.

Sportsmen, Environmentalists Clash Over Predator Hunting

http://kjzz.org/content/98282/sportsmen-environmentalists-clash-over-predator-hunting

By  Stina Sieg

February 05, 2015

This week, a convention of predator hunters is gathering in Tucson. The group, called Predator Masters, hunts such animals as coyotes and raccoon and has drawn national criticism for what critics say amount to killing contests. The group disputes that term and says it isn’t planning an organized hunt during the convention. Still, controversy surrounding the sport remains.

It’s hard to tell the difference between an actual coyote’s howl and the plaintive yell longtime hunter Rich Higgins can make with one of his many breath-powered calling devices.

“I truly believe that humans are hard-wired, genetically, as hunter gatherers,” he said, after showing off a few of the cries. “So we’re just being true to our nature.”

Higgins is the president of Arizona Predator Callers, one of the many organizations in the state that legally hunts predators like coyotes on public land. He said it isn’t so much about killing, as it about everything else involved with the sport he loves.

“Everything from building your own calls and your own howlers, learning the behavior of that animal, so you can exploit its vulnerabilities,” he said. “All of this is fascinating to us.”

And that’s the real point, he added, of what some people call “killing contests.” That’s when a group like his tries to kill as many coyotes as they can in a certain period of time. The reality is that most hunters don’t even bag a coyote, Higgins said. It’s more about hanging out with people who also enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

“It’s an incredible experience,” he said. “And becomes addicting.”

That doesn’t exactly comfort predator hunting opponents, who say it’s a waste to kill animals without using them for food or fur. Sandy Bahr is the president of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. Her organization is not against all hunting, she said, but with some predator hunters, “there is this attitude, which is pretty disrespectful of the animals, that ‘we’ll just go out and kill as many as possible.’”

Even if you take away the emotional side of this, Bahr said there could be real consequences from this kind of hunting. If the coyote population dips, there could be a large spike, followed by a crash, of prey species that coyotes usually keep in check. On the other hand, coyotes could actually increase in number.

The more they feel threatened, “the more they’ll have larger litters,” she said. “They’ll breed earlier, they actually respond by doing more to build the population.”

But the Arizona Game and Fish Department sees it differently, including Jim Paxon, special assistant to the director.

“Under no circumstances and in geographic area, have hunters made a dent in the coyote population,” he said.

He said there are an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 coyotes in the state. Game and Fish attempted to regulate hunting contests about 15 years ago, without success. But Paxon said the department doesn’t take an official stance now. Instead, it enforces current rules. Those allow people with valid hunting licenses to kill as many coyotes as they want.

“So, it’s recognized that coyote hunting is a legitimate activity for hunters and sportsmen,” Paxon said.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, even for a seasoned predator hunter like Rich Higgins.

“I always have a tinge of regret. Always, always, always,” Higgins said. “And sometimes, when it becomes a little bit strong, I will pick up my camera only.”

In his heart, Higgins said, he is a hunter. And that’s regardless of whether he’s hunting coyotes with a lens — or a rifle.

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