Wyoming officials say that at any given time there are about 300 cyanide-propelling, coyote-killing M-44s protruding from the soil in the Equality State, and that there’s no discussion being had about banning the devices.
A national debate about the predator-killing device is unfolding in the wake of a hospitalized teenager and three dogs and a wolf that have been killed recently in Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. On Monday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division announced it would discontinue using the spring-loaded poison in Idaho. But the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and state Wildlife Services office, at this stage, are not planning to follow suit.
“There hasn’t been any discussion [of a ban],” said Kent Drake, the Department of Agriculture’s predator management coordinator. “In the Wyoming case the applicator did nothing wrong.”
The case Drake referred to occurred on unmarked private land north of Casper and claimed the lives of two bird hunting dogs, Molly and Abby, in mid-March. Todd Sexton, whose 6-year-old Weimaraner was killed by the poison, told the online news outlet WyoFile the scene “was like a horror show.”
In Wyoming there are 26 restrictions regulating the use of M-44s, guidelines that are set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Among the restrictions is a prohibition against siting the poison “where federally listed threatened or endangered animal species might be adversely affected.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also to be consulted.
“You can forget about it if you’re in Teton County,” Drake said, “because you cannot use them anywhere where there are gray wolves or even grizzly bears.”
U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service lands — in other words, almost all of Teton County — are off-limits for agricultural producers hoping to reduce numbers of coyotes or foxes, the only species that can be legally targeted with M-44s. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture does not allow the general public to use the baited sodium cyanide canisters on Bureau of Land Management property, although Wildlife Services does have that authority.
Lincoln County is the nearest to Jackson Hole that Wildlife Services deploys M-44s, agency public affairs officer Lyndsay Cole said in an email.
Over the last five years Wildlife Services-placed M-44s have unintentionally killed 10 red fox, eight swift fox and a feral dog in Wyoming, Cole said.
Drake said that “incidental take” from the poisonous contraptions permitted by the state has been “very, very limited” in his decadelong tenure.
“I think we’ve lost a black bear. There was a wolf, but that was in an area of the state where there was not known to be wolves at that time,” Drake said. “There was a rancher’s dog lost. A couple ravens. That’s most all of it. It’s not too much.”
Lisa Robertson is one Jackson Hole resident who thinks any animal killed by M-44s — targeted or not — is one too many.
“They should have been banned a long time ago,” said Robertson, founder of the animal rights advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped. “They should have been history, and it should have been Wildlife Services’ decision. It ought to be their decision to ban them now.”
Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar was behind the petition that led to Wildlife Services’ ban of M-44s in Idaho, announced by the agency Monday. Wyoming, he said, wasn’t targeted for a ban in the petition, but there has been talk of expanding the bans to other Western states, and Western Watersheds also backs recent legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on M-44s and another poisonous predator-killing device, Compound 1080.
“We think that M-44s really have no place in modern society,” Molvar said, “and the backlash that has arisen from this poisoning in Idaho is part of a growing groundswell of resistance to Wildlife Services and its lethal methods.
“It’s hard to justify the fact that taxpayer dollars are being used to kill native wildlife,” he said, “when there are so many other ecologically and scientifically sound alternatives.”
A Wyoming Department of Agriculture manual outlining use of M-44s to kill coyotes can be found with the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.