Facing Opposition, E.P.A. Backtracks on Use of ‘Cyanide Bombs’ to Kill Wild Animals

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday withdrew its support for the continued use of so-called cyanide bombs to protect livestock from predators, reversing course amid strong opposition to the practice.

The E.P.A. administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, said he was withdrawing an interim reauthorization for the use of M-44 devices, which are used to kill coyotes, foxes and other animals that prey on livestock. The agency, he added, would re-evaluate the highly criticized practice.

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“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by E.P.A. with the registrants of this predacide,” Mr. Wheeler said in a statement on Thursday. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and nonpredatory animals.”

The federal Department of Agriculture, along with its state counterpart agencies in Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, have relied on the M-44s for farming since the mid-1970s.

The devices are smeared with scented bait, which cause predators to bite on and pull them. A capsule containing sodium cyanide, a highly toxic pesticide, is then ejected into the predator’s mouth.

It was not clear late Thursday whether the E.P.A. had immediately halted the use of the devices or was simply reconsidering its reauthorization. The agency was not immediately prepared to answer follow-up questions.

In its interim reauthorization decision, which was written in June but made public last week, the E.P.A. acknowledged that “an overwhelming majority” of the 20,000 public comments it had received were submitted in opposition to its proposal to renew the use of cyanide bombs.

The agency received the comments as part of a write-in campaign organized by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, two environmental groups that have criticized the practice as inhumane.

“I’m thrilled that the E.P.A. just reversed its wrongheaded decision to reauthorize deadly cyanide traps,” Collette Adkins, the carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Thursday. “So many people expressed their outrage, and the E.P.A. seems to be listening. I hope the feds finally recognize the need for a permanent ban to protect people, pets and imperiled wildlife from this poison.”

In 2017, the devices killed more than 6,500 animals across the country, according to the federal Department of Agriculture, which acknowledged that 200 of them were unintended targets, including foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, swine and a black bear.

According to Predator Defense, a wildlife advocacy group, Dennis Slaugh of Utah died in 2018, 15 years after being poisoned by an M-44 device. Ten other people were injured and nearly 50 dogs killed by the devices in the past three decades, the group said.

Two separate efforts by environmentalists to block the use of M-44s were denied by the E.P.A. in the past decade, in 2009 and 2018.

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