To friends of wildlife – speak up to help the birds in NYS!
COMMENTS DUE BY NOV. 8th
USDA/Wildlife Services is introducing plans to address perceived “problems” here in New York State. These plans include lethal and non-lethal strategies. Consider telling them that their lethal strategies, including poisons, are unacceptable. It is easy and quick to leave a comment – there are only a few days left to comment – comments are due by November 8.
New York is considering “wildlife damage management” against native birds including owls, kestrels, egrets, herons, plovers, hawks, woodpeckers, osprey, and many many more.
Here is the link to leave a comment: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=APHIS-2019-0070-0001 (copy/paste this link to go to the comment page)
In the comments section, you can simply say you oppose killing birds, or you can mention the decline in birds and their habitats and why such plans are inhumane and detrimental.
Please share this message and the link with family and friends – thank you!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – August 21, 2018
Siskiyou County to Seek Alternatives to Killing Thousands of Animals Each Year
Siskiyou County’s decision came after coalition members warned the county in June that its contract with Wildlife Services violates the California Environmental Quality Act. Coalition members include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Mountain Lion Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Project Coyote and WildEarth Guardians.
“Siskiyou is the fourth county to suspend its contract with Wildlife Services as a result of our efforts,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Other California counties with wildlife-killing programs should sit up and take notice: This succession of wins for wildlife has generated a momentum that is impossible to ignore.”
Under its Siskiyou County contracts, Wildlife Services killed approximately 28,000 animals in the County from 2008 to 2016. The program targeted ecologically important native wildlife like coyotes, mountain lions and black bears without assessing the environmental damage or considering alternatives. Using inhumane and indiscriminate methods like traps and snares, Wildlife Services also killed nontarget animals, including domestic dogs and cats. The program, which has killed thousands of birds each year, likely also harmed protected wildlife such as tricolored blackbirds.
“With another California county having now cancelled its contract with Wildlife Services, I’m hopeful this victory marks the turn of the tide for California’s wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Siskiyou County is smart to seek out an alternative to this ineffective, cruel and harmful wildlife-killing program.”
Siskiyou is the latest county in California to reexamine its contract with Wildlife Services amid pressure from the animal-protection and conservation coalition. Earlier this summer, Shasta County cancelled its contract with Wildlife Services. In 2015, in settlement of a lawsuit filed by coalition organizations, Mendocino County agreed to fully evaluate nonlethal predator-control alternatives. And in 2017 a California court ruled in favor of the coalition in finding that Monterey County must conduct an environmental review before renewing its contract with Wildlife Services.
“Siskiyou County’s decision recognizes the unacceptable risk that Wildlife Services’ methods present to the many threatened and endangered species that call the county home,” said Johanna Hamburger, a wildlife attorney at the Animal Welfare Institute. “This is a significant step that will protect species such as the tricolored blackbird, which has declined by nearly 90 percent in the past 90 years, and is easily mistaken for other species of blackbirds that Wildlife Services routinely targets.”
“We commend Siskiyou County for this enlightened decision,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “There are many nonlethal methods and models for reducing conflicts between people, livestock and wildlife that are cost effective, ecologically sound and ethically defensible.”
“Communities across California are becoming models for successful science-based human-wildlife coexistence,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We welcome Siskiyou County to the growing community of people harmoniously living with wildlife in our shared ecosystems.”
Project Coyote is a fiscally sponsored project of Earth Island Institute which has received a Four Star rating from Charity Navigator.
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.
“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.
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.”
As was their routine, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield and his dog raced through the backyard of his Idaho home and up the top of a nearby hill to play. Minutes later, Canyon was knocked to the ground after a cyanide bomb set by the U.S. government detonated some 350 yards from the family’s doorstep.
Canyon watched as his 3-year-old golden Labrador, Casey, lay dying, suffocating from orange-colored cyanide sprayed by an M-44 device no one had told Canyon’s family about.
“We are devastated,” the boy’s mother, Theresa Mansfield, of Pocatello, Idaho, told Fox News on Tuesday. “My dog died in less than 2 minutes. My son was rushed to the hospital covered in cyanide.”
“We had no idea they were there,” Mansfield said of the device, which she described as resembling a sprinkler head.
The dog’s death on Thursday follows a string of other recent incidents in which family pets were accidentally killed by M-44s, a controversial device used by Wildlife Services, a little-known branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with destroying animals seen as threats to people, agriculture and the environment.
Critics, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., say the government’s taxpayer-funded Predator Control program and its killing methods are random — and at times, illegal.
“The recent death of dogs in Idaho and Wyoming are the latest unnecessary tragedies of USDA’s Wildlife Services use of M-44 cyanide traps,” DeFazio told Fox News. “These deadly traps have killed scores of domestic animals, and sooner or later, they will kill a human.”
“It’s time to stop subsidizing ranchers’ livestock protection efforts with taxpayer dollars and end the unchecked authority of Wildlife Services once and for all,” he said.
DeFazio’s office said the lawmaker plans to reintroduce a House bill this week that, if passed into law, would ban the use of the devices for predator control.
“These deadly traps have killed scores of domestic animals, and sooner or later, they will kill a human.”
– Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Mansfield’s home on Thursday with a bomb squad to investigate the incident. The family was immediately sent to a local emergency room to be screened for cyanide exposure.
The government claims the devices are not capable of killing a child. But Idaho authorities do not agree in the case of Canyon Mansfield, who weighs only 20 pounds more than his 80-pound dog.
“He’s very lucky to be alive,” Capt. Dan Argyle of the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said of Canyon, whose blood is still being checked for levels of cyanide.
“We’re still trying to figure out how he wasn’t affected,” Argyle told Fox News. “We think a strong wind blew it [the cyanide] downhill when the device went off — right in the dog’s direction.”
Argyle said Wildlife Services is required by law to post warning signs around the devices but said, “We did not observe any signs at the location.” Upon further inspection, authorities found a second device within yards of the Mansfield home. Both devices were planted in the ground on Feb. 25 without the family’s knowledge or consent.
Days earlier, a family walking in an area 52 miles northwest of Casper, Wyo., lost two dogs from an M-44 that detonated near a hiking trail they have walked for 20 years.
Amy Helfrieck said she heard her husband yelling on March 12 as she was antler hunting with her 8-year-old daughter, sister and brother-in-law in a prairie filled with cedar trees and rock outcroppings.
When she turned her head, Helfrieck saw her husband carrying the couple’s dog, Abby, a 15-year-old Drahthaar — a breed similar to a German wire-haired dog — down a hill.
Helfrieck, a nurse, tried to pry open the dog’s mouth.
“She was having a lot of difficulty breathing and I knew at that time she was dying,” she said.
“What I didn’t realize was that we were exposing ourselves to a very deady poison,” Helfrieck said.
Her sister’s 7-year-old Weimaraner, Molly, also was killed by the sodium cyanide trap.
In this case, Helfrieck said there were markers at the site but they were placed only 5 feet from the actual trap.
The M-44s, also known as “coyote-getters,” are designed to lure animals with a smelly bait. When an animal tugs on the device, a spring-loaded metal cylinder fires sodium cyanide powder into its mouth.
Over the years, thousands of non-target animals — wild and domestic — have been mistakenly killed by the lethal devices.
On Saturday, The Oregonian reported that a gray wolf was accidentally killed by an M-44 on private land in Oregon’s Wallowa County. The wolf death was the first documented “incidental take” of its kind in the state involving a protected animal and an M-44, fish and wildlife officials told the newspaper.
Wildlife Services said it first learned of the Wyoming incident on Monday and denied any involvement in the deaths.
Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told Fox News the agency does not conduct predator control using those devices in Natrona County, where the incident occurred.
Cole, however, did confirm the “unintentional lethal take” of the Mansfield family dog in Idaho.
“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,” she said, noting that the agency was “very concerned” about any human exposure to the sodium cyanide.
“Wildlife Services has removed M-44s from that area, and is completing a thorough review of the circumstances of this incident,” she said.
Cole called the accidental death of family pets from M-44s a “rare occurrence,” and said Wildlife Services posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when traps are placed near their homes. She also said these devices “are only set at the request of and with permission from property owners or managers.”
The Mansfields and other familes, however, said they had no knowledge the devices were anywhere near their homes and were not familiar with how they work.
Brooks Fahy, executive director of the national wildlife advocacy organization Predator Defense, has been working for decades to ban M-44s, calling them “nothing more than land mines waiting to go off, no matter if their victim is a child, a dog or a wolf.”
“Much of the public remains totally in the dark about the fact that these deadly devices are placed on private and public lands nationwide,” Fahy told Fox News. “M-44s are totally indiscriminate. Worse yet, they are unnecessary, as the majority of the animals killed have never preyed on livestock.”
The state director for USDA Wildlife Services in Oregon said the agency has removed M-44 cyanide poison traps from “areas of immediate concern” following the unintended poisoning of a wolf in Wallowa County in February.
Director Dave Williams said Wildlife Services has reviewed what happened and shared that information with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages wolves in the state. The two agencies are in ongoing discussions about how to prevent another wolf death, Williams said.
“We don’t feel good about that,” he said.
Williams said Wildlife Services has removed M-44s from areas identified by ODFW as places wolves are present. ODFW officials confirmed that took place.
“We appreciate that Wildlife Services has voluntarily removed M-44s,” ODFW Wildlife Division Administrator Doug Cottam said in a prepared statement.
“We also recognize we want to increase our communication between our agencies,” he said. “We want to develop a more effective system to ensure that Wildlife Services’ staff working in areas with wolves know what ODFW knows about wolf activity.”
OR-48, a 100-pound male from the Shamrock Pack, died Feb. 26 after it bit an M-44 device, which fires cyanide powder into a predator’s mouth when it tugs on a baited or scented capsule holder. Wildlife Services set the trap on private land in an attempt to kill coyotes.
The federal agency kills predators or other wildlife that damage or pose a threat to property, livestock or humans. The agency describes M-44s as an “effective and environmentally sound wildlife damage management tool,” but the wildlife activist group Predator Defense calls them notoriously dangerous.
The devices are designed to kill canids such as coyotes and foxes. The cyanide powder reacts with saliva in an animal’s mouth, forming a poisonous gas that kills the animal within one to five minutes. Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, said M-44s indiscriminately kill dogs attracted by the scent and are a hazard to children or others who might come across them in rural areas.
The Wallowa County incident is complicated by Oregon’s management and protection of gray wolves over the past decade as they entered the state from Idaho, formed packs, quickly grew in population and spread geographically.
Previously, Wildlife Services did not use M-44s in what the state designated as Areas of Known Wolf Activity. After wolves were taken off the state endangered species list in 2015, it was ODFW’s understanding that Wildlife Services would continue to avoid using M-44s in such areas.
“We discussed our concerns specifically regarding M-44s,” ODFW spokesman Rick Hargrave said last week. “We didn’t want those devices in those areas.
“We believed it was clear what our concerns were,” Hargrave said.
Williams, the Wildlife Services state director, said he wants to focus on preventing another wolf death rather than “who messed up here.”
He said the Wallowa County case was the first time the agency has killed a wolf in Oregon. Overall, the agency has recorded “lethal take” of “non-targeted” animals — ones it didn’t intend to kill — in 1.3 percent of cases, he said. He said the agency twice unintentionally caught Oregon wolves in foothold traps, which nonetheless allowed ODFW to put tracking collars on them before releasing them unharmed.
“Some of our tools are more forgiving than others,” Williams said.
He said Wildlife Services puts on workshops to help ranchers protect livestock with non-lethal methods. In one case two summers ago, agency personnel spent 260 hours over four weeks helping protect a sheep flock from Umatilla Pack wolves, he said. The work allowed ODFW to avoid having to kill wolves due to depredations, he said.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association views the Wallowa County incident as a matter of agency to agency interaction and is “staying on the sidelines” in the investigation, said Todd Nash, a Wallowa County rancher who is the group’s wolf policy chair. Livestock producers, of course, have a keen interest in the state’s wolf management policies and outcomes.
“It’s never a good time politically to have a dead wolf,” Nash said.
Somewhere in America, a wild animal is about to die.
A leg trap has been set. Bait laced with poison has been laid out. A cage that no one will check for days is open and inviting with food inside. A little-known division of the federal Agriculture Department called Wildlife Services kills about 4,000 animals every day. Many of them are invasive species that don’t belong in the United States, but to the dismay of conservationists, native animals such as beavers, bears, wolves, bobcats, alligators, prairie dogs, otters and owls are also being snuffed out.
Last year, 3.2 million animals were killed. Over the past 10 years, the toll surpasses 35 million. But a recent settlement reached at a federal court in Nevada might one day dramatically lower these numbers. A small animal rights group, WildEarth Guardians, argued in a lawsuit that the science in an analysis that Wildlife Services uses to justify its kills in state wilderness and wilderness study areas is out of date, and the agency settled by agreeing to an update that will probably take two years.
Until the new analysis is drafted, debated in public forms and finalized, Wildlife Services will not operate in 6 million acres of Nevada wilderness — remote areas where no roads exist. “They will send instruction to everyone who works for them that they can no longer use that assessment,” said Bethany Cotton, the wildlife program director for WildEarth. “They will post that commitment on their website. That’s why this has much broader implications than just Nevada.”
“I think it’s a significant shift in how the program operates, and my hope is that officials will embrace the science and the modern ethics around the treatment of wildlife,” Cotton said.
WildEarth Guardians, based in New Mexico, told the court that some of the the science in the analysis used by Wildlife Services, which often kills animals such as coyotes and weasels at the request of farmers and ranchers, is 80 years old and does not reflect how foresters and biologists view wilderness today. The court declined to grant the government’s motion to dismiss the case, saying instead that WildEarth demonstrated that its interests were being harmed, Cotton said.
The settlement was certified the first week of October and announced by WildEarth this week. Wildlife Services would not discuss the court case when representatives were contacted, but a spokeswoman, Lyndsay Cole, released a statement acknowledging that the agency has “begun the process of developing a new” assessment known as the National Environmental Policy Act for managing statewide predator damage in Nevada.
“Wildlife Services is dedicated to resolving human and wildlife conflicts with the most up-to-date information and best scientific analysis available,” Cole wrote.
Like other conservationists, Cotton said Wildlife Service’s efforts to remove harmful invasive and nuisance species from the wild is vital. Birds at airports smash into planes. Hoards of blackbirds are known to menace cattle and steal their feed. Vultures often pour into suburban communities for warmth in winter. Feral cats roam the streets, killing nearly a billion birds each year.
“But we object to their killings of native animals,” she said. “They admitted killing 17 domestic dogs because they use traps, and they’re indiscriminate.”
The analysis, conservationists have long argued, fails to take into account the benefits of predators the agency kills, such as wolves, Cotton said. When wolves that had all but disappeared from the West were reintroduced into the wild a few years ago, they triggered a cascade effect that improved the health of the landscape.
Herds of elk and deer, on which wolves prey, are forced to move rather than shelter in a single place, where they denude areas of leafy vegetation that smaller animals need to survive. Deer and sheep munching everything in sight in a single location throws a habitat out of balance, because mice disappear for lack of shelter, leaving less food for birds of prey, foxes and other predators.
When wolves bring down a deer or elk carcass, hungry bears benefit by stealing it. Killing wolves based on outdated science ignored other key biological realities, Cotton said. Removing key members of a pack often leaves it shorthanded and unable to take down big prey.
The way the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are slaughtering wolves is an outrage. Guest columnist Brooks Fahy explains way.
By Brooks Fahy
Special to The Times
IF you’ve heard about the wolf killing under way in northeastern Washington, you most likely have been led to think that progress is being made, simply because groups as disparate as ranchers, wildlife officials and environmentalists have agreed on something.
But what’s going on is an outrage. And it can only be understood if the common assumptions about ranching and wolves are exposed for what they are — a travesty for wildlife, public lands and the taxpayer.
What has happened is a family of wolves known as the Profanity Peak pack has been targeted for death by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Their “crime” was killing livestock grazing on public lands in remote and rugged parts of the Colville National Forest after ranchers had allegedly used nonlethal deterrents. The first two wolves were gunned down by helicopter on Aug. 5. Four more were killed by Friday morning. The agency has slated the rest for death — this in a state that has barely more than 90 wolves.
The agency’s reaction — killing wolves at the behest of ranchers — is a loss for Washingtonians and the American public. Here’s why:
• It’s cruel, anti-science and fiscally unfair.
• Nonlethal deterrents work when used appropriately.
• Ranching is destroying our public lands.
• Wildlife should live in peace on public lands.
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First, the cruelty: Science increasingly shows that animals experience pain and loss. Wolves are pack animals with a social hierarchy similar to our own families. Imagine what they experience when they see family members killed and maimed. With aerial gunning, wolves are chased by helicopters and often run to exhaustion before being blasted by a shotgun as the helicopter hovers. They experience sheer terror. The actual act is something government agencies don’t want the public to see. Isn’t it odd that we see news coverage from war zones, but not from the war on our wildlife?
Next, the financial reality: The iconic image of cowboys on horseback tending their herds was deeply ingrained into our psyches by old Western movies. No one is stopping ranchers from tending livestock this way now — but ranchers don’t tend livestock this way. Livestocks on public land tend to be scattered far and wide, and most ranchers don’t want to spend time and money guarding them. Why should they? They know the government will come in and kill predators on the taxpayers’ dime. They also know they’ll be compensated for their losses, and many ranchers now consider these handouts a right, not a privilege. No other industry has been more adept at externalizing their costs. This is not a fair or sustainable business model.
Nonlethal ways to protect livestock abound, but the best is effective human presence. With the Profanity Peak pack, the terrain is not suitable for grazing; it is pristine forest where only an army of range riders could effectively deter wolves. Equally troubling, ranchers have been known to put cattle in the middle of wolf rendezvous areas in hopes of encouraging predation. We’ve heard reports that may have happened in this case.
Livestock causes enormous environmental damage. They remove forage and ground cover other animals need to survive. Cattle trample and denude riparian areas and pollute streams with waste. Heated-up streams can no longer support dozens of species, including fish. Thousands of miles of fencing fragment habitat, causing deathly obstacles for fast-running species like pronghorn antelope.
So we pay for ranchers to destroy our land, and wildlife’s habitat!
Surely we want the word “wild” to remain part of wildlife. Wolves and other predators shouldn’t have to suffer a mortal fate for doing what they are born to do. And we shouldn’t remove what balanced ecosystems require.
It all points to bigger questions. But I will close with just one: What is the appropriate use of public lands?
Public lands are our lands; they don’t belong to ranchers. They are inappropriate places for livestock.
It’s high time the public and politicians say: “Enough! Get your livestock off our lands!”
Brooks Fahy of Seattle is a wildlife filmmaker and executive director of the national wildlife advocacy organization Predator Defense.
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Some wolf advocates are outraged that the state is preparing for the second time to exterminate an entire wolf pack for preying on livestock in northeastern Washington state.
This is the second time in four years that a pack of endangered wolves has received the death penalty because of the grazing of privately owned cattle on publicly owned lands, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
Washington is home to about 90 wolves, and killing the 11 members of the Profanity Peak pack would amount to 12 percent of the population.
“By no stretch of the imagination can killing 12 percent of the state’s tiny population of 90 wolves be consistent with recovery,” said Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, on Thursday.
“We can’t keep placing wolves in harm’s way by repeatedly dumping livestock onto public lands with indefensible terrain, then killing the wolves when conflicts arise,” she said.
Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it would exterminate the Profanity Peak pack in Ferry County. Since mid-July, the agency has confirmed that wolves have killed or injured six cattle and probably five others, based on staff investigations.
Jim Unsworth, director of the agency, authorized the wolf hunts between the towns of Republic and Kettle Falls.
Wildlife officials shot two pack members Aug. 5, but temporarily ended wolf-removal efforts after two weeks passed without finding any more evidence of wolf predation on cattle.
“At that time, we said we would restart this operation if there was another wolf attack, and now we have three,” said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead. “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”
Since 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown from two wolves in one pack to at least 90 wolves and 19 packs.
Wolves were hunted to extinction in Washington at the beginning of the last century. Since the early 2000s, they’ve moved back into the state from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia.
That has set off alarm bells from people in rural areas, especially in northeastern Washington where the animals are concentrated.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has walked a fine line between environmental groups, who support wolf recovery, and ranchers who want to protect their herds. The issue has become a dividing line between urban and rural residents.
In 2012, hunters hired by the state killed members of the Wedge pack of wolves, in the same general area, for killing livestock.
Conservation groups say the livestock is the problem, not wolves.
“Cows grazing in thick forest and downed trees in the Colville National Forest are in an indefensible situation,” said Tim Coleman, executive director for Kettle Range Conservation Group. “We believe the wildest areas of our national forests should be a place where wolves can roam free.”
Under Washington’s wolf plan, livestock owners are eligible for taxpayer-funded compensation for losses. Taxpayers have also funded the radio collars placed on wolves.
Those collars are now being used to locate and kill the wolves. This practice is referred to as the use of “Judas wolves,” because the collared wolves unknowingly betray the location of their family members, Weiss said.
Some conservation groups do not oppose the hunt. Wolf Haven International, the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Conservation Northwest said they are focused on long-term goals.
“We remain steadfast that our important goals remain the long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves in our state alongside thriving rural communities,” the groups said in a press release. “We believe that ultimately we can create conditions where everyone’s values are respected and the needs of wildlife, wildlife advocates, and rural communities are met.”