Killing of Wildlife, Pets Brings Call for Poison Ban Animal protection groups want the United States Environmental Protection Agency to ban two poisons widely used by farmers, ranchers and the U.S. Department Agriculture to kill wildlife. Animal advocates say they kill endangered animals and pet dogs.
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Killing of Wildlife, Pets Brings Call for Poison Ban

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Killing of Wildlife, Pets Brings Call for Poison Ban

Killing of Wildlife, Pets Brings Call for Poison Ban

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Coming up: Bob Mondello on the return of sleazy cinema. But first, another story of the natural world. Animal protection groups want the federal government to ban two poisons used to kill livestock predators, mostly coyotes. They argue the poisons also kill non-predators, including some endangered species.

From Denver, NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: Just about a year ago, Sam Pollock(ph) was in a good mood walking back to his truck after a successful day of rabbit hunting outside Vernal, Utah. His black lab mix Jenna was following him when she started making noises.

Mr. SAM POLLOCK (Pet Owner): You know, I was yelling, what happened? What's wrong? And I thought she was choking on something. And she threw up, you know, everything she had, and right then I knew that nothing was blocking her airway. So that's when I looked down and I saw the two little rocks pushed together and the M-44 device in between them.

BRADY: Jenna was dead within two minutes. An M-44 looks like a tent stake. Above ground there's a smelly substance designed to attract livestock predators. When an animal pulls at the top, sodium cyanide powder shoots into its mouth. The device that killed Jenna was planted on public land to protect cattle grazing nearby from likely predators.

Peter Orwick says M-44s are a big help to ranchers and farmers. He says without them, may more livestock would be killed each year. Orwick heads the American Sheep Industry Association. While losing a pet is sad, he says a bunch of lambs attacked by coyotes also is a disturbing sight.

Mr. PETER ORWICK (Executive Director, American Sheep Industry Association): And then to come out and in one morning, it's just a bloody mess and there are animals, are laying scattered and wounded all over the yard, that's tough to take as well.

BRADY: Not to mention the financial loss for the rancher who invested a lot of time and money into the flock. Still, hundreds of non-target animals, like raccoons, skunks and occasionally bald eagles and black bears, die each year after they've come across an M-44. And not just in the West. Ranchers and farmers consider them collateral damage in the necessary war against predators.

But people like Wendy Keefover-Ring believe that war is not necessary. She's with a group called Sinapu - that's the Ute Indian word for wolves. Keefover-Ring says ranchers should learn to live with coyotes and use non-lethal means to keep livestock safe.

Ms. WENDY KEEFOVER-RING (Sinapu): They want a risk-free environment, and so they think that to do that, we have to remove all predators. But in actual fact, most of the risk comes from disease and weather and problems like that that we can't control.

BRADY: The M-44s are planted by a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency called Wildlife Services. One of its mandates is to control predators. The agency has long been a target of groups like Sinapu.

Ms. KEEFOVER-RING: Wildlife Services has this dirty little war on native carnivores, and hardly anyone knows about it. And it's - we're trying to bring attention to that.

BRADY: In recent years, Wildlife Services has taken steps to reduce collateral death. The agency used to leave poison-laced carcasses out for all kinds of animals to get into. Now it's using more methods that target predators specifically. One is a collar that is put around a sheep's neck. When a coyote bites down, a poison is released. Gary Littauer is a manager with the Wildlife Services. He says most animal protection groups have a misconception of his agency.

Mr. GARY LITTAUER (National Environmental Manager, USDA Wildlife Services): That all we want to do is kill animals. That's not our goal. If we could resolve all these problems without killing animals, then we would certainly do that.

BRADY: Littauer says his agency is helping ranchers and farmers produce more food and other products. The animal protection groups have asked the federal government to ban the sodium cyanide used in M-44s and another chemical called Compound 1080; it's used in the sheep collars. If the poisons are not banned, the groups have hinted they may take the issue to court.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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