NPR logo After Outcry, USDA Stops Using 'Cyanide Bombs' In Idaho — For Now

After Outcry, USDA Stops Using 'Cyanide Bombs' In Idaho — For Now

An M-44 — also known as a "cyanide bomb" for the way it sprays sodium cyanide — sits nested between two rocks. Mark Mansfield, father of a boy accidentally sprayed March 16 in Idaho, calls these devices used to protect livestock from predators "neither safe nor humane." Bannock County Sheriff's Office hide caption

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Bannock County Sheriff's Office

An M-44 — also known as a "cyanide bomb" for the way it sprays sodium cyanide — sits nested between two rocks. Mark Mansfield, father of a boy accidentally sprayed March 16 in Idaho, calls these devices used to protect livestock from predators "neither safe nor humane."

Bannock County Sheriff's Office

About a month after an anti-predator device spit sodium cyanide in the face of an unsuspecting boy and killed his dog, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it is ending its use of the M-44 mechanisms in Idaho indefinitely.

"We take seriously the incident in Idaho," Jason Suckow, western regional director of the USDA's Wildlife Services agency, told conservation groups in a letter Monday. "We immediately responded by removing all M-44s from the area, initiating an inquiry into the incident, and launching a review of current [Wildlife Services] operating procedures."

Suckow noted the agency has "removed all M-44s currently deployed on all land ownerships in Idaho" and has refrained from planting new ones.

Then he added: "WS will notify you 30 days prior to placing any new M-44s."

The move follows an incident last month in which 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield inspected a half-buried, sprinkler-looking device while walking his dog near his family's house — only to be hit immediately in the face with an "orange, powdery substance."

The blast sent Mansfield to the hospital; it killed his dog.

As we reported last month, Mansfield, his family and the Bannock County Sheriff's Office later learned the device had been placed there by the federal government:

"Often known as a 'cyanide bomb,' it's a device used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prevent predators such as coyotes from harming livestock on farm and ranch lands. When triggered, the M-44 spits a potentially lethal dose of sodium cyanide powder at the interloper.

" 'This device is extremely dangerous to animals and humans,' the Bannock County Sheriff's Office said in a statement released the next day. 'If a device such as this is ever located please do not touch or go near the device and contact your local law enforcement agency.' "

In response to the incident, the Western Watersheds Project and more than a dozen other conservation groups filed a petition against the use of M-44s in Idaho — a petition that ultimately helped prompt Wildlife Services to reverse its policy in the state.

"This is an important victory, at least a temporary one, for both wildlife and for public safety across Idaho," Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement celebrating the reversal. "We thank Wildlife Services for doing the right thing by removing these deadly and indiscriminate killing devices, and urge them to make the moratorium permanent."

The Mansfield family, which also submitted a petition of its own, cast the decision as just the first step. They're also pursuing federal legislation, which they call "Canyon's Law," that would ban M-44s across the U.S.

"We believe the use of these devices is too indiscriminate and imprecise," said Canyon's father, Mark Mansfield, tells the Idaho State Journal.

"The ban in Idaho is an exciting first step. But we don't want Wildlife Services to issue a temporary ban and then reinstate M-44 use once everything has blown over. That's why we need a federal law like Canyon's Law."