Trump administration oks cyanide poisoning of coyotes

Quit cyaniding me, President Trump
Nevada Division of Wildlife photo
Nevada Division of Wildlife photo

Wildlife activists are condemning the Trump administration’s reauthorization of the government’s use of a weapon designed to kill coyotes by spraying cyanide into their mouths.  

The devices, M-44s, are likened to “cyanide bombs” by activists, who say they inhumanely and indiscriminately kill thousands of animals a year. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture records reveal M-44s killed 6,579 animals in 2018, mostly coyotes and foxes.  That’s about half of the 13,232 animals killed by M-44s in 2017.  

More than 200 deaths were inadvertent, including the killing of a bear, foxes, oppossums, raccoons and skunks, according to the records. 

In Nevada, M-44s, which are legal in all counties but Clark, were among the least used methods to kill coyotes last year, responsible for just 106 of 5,218 deaths.    

Other methods included:

  • Shooting from fixed-wing aircraft 2,765
  • Foothold traps                               852
  • Shooting from helicopter                636
  • Firearms                                       517
  • Neck snares                                  304
  • Gas cartridge                                  22
  • Padded foothold trap                       16

The Nevada Division of Wildlife has no position on the weapons, says Game Division Administrator Brian Wakeling. 

“We aren’t for or against M-44s but I hate to see a tool removed from the toolbox because it gives you less discretion in choosing the right tool,” Wakeling said.  

Wakeling says U.S. Wildlife, a division of the USDA, performs predator control work on behalf of the state and is also contracted by the livestock industry. The Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of the weapons for predator control and imposed some restrictions in the latest rules.

M-44s cannot be placed within 300 feet of a public road or pathway, increased from a previous distance of 100 feet.  Two elevated warning signs must be placed within 15 feet of each device. No devices can be placed within 600 feet of a residence unless the landowner gives permission.

But activists are not appeased.

“In my 25 years working with M-44 victims I’ve learned that Wildlife Services’ agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense in a news release.  “And warning signs will not prevent more dogs, wild animals and potentially children from being killed. They cannot read them. M-44s are a safety menace and must be banned.”

Earlier this year, the Las Vegas Sun recounted the agony of an Idaho boy who poked at an M-44, and inadvertently poisoned his yellow labrador.

“’I look over and see him having a seizure,’ Canyon (Mansfield) told a news reporter afterward, holding back tears. ‘I ran over and he had these glassy eyes. He couldn’t see me, and he had this red stuff coming out of his mouth.’”

“The EPA restrictions are actually weaker than those that were already in place in Idaho when Canyon Mansfield and his dog were poisoned in 2017,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “It is absolutely appalling that the livestock industry, which is supposed to be regulated by the EPA, is instead dictating the agency’s policy to extend the use of deadly M-44 cyanide bombs and their lethal effects on native wildlife, families, and their pets.”

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.